By Peter Allen, in Paris, and Stephen Adams
I feel like as an art and art history lover, I should find these kinds of heists offensive and sad, but I can't help myself. I'm intrigued by them, and particularly by the theories as to the motive for the heist. It's commonly known that it's very difficult to sell stolen works of art, especially ones so famous, which always leads to the theory that the heist was sponsored by a private collector, and the idea that someone would be so in love with certain pieces of art as to have them stolen solely to allow unlimited viewing, is somehow romantic, no?
The £100 million modern art heist
A single masked raider has carried out "one of the biggest thefts in art history" during a dawn heist at a Paris gallery in which he stole works worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Published: 7:24PM BST 20 May 2010
Click through for the article from the Telegraph and images of the stolen pieces...
The theft saw the man breaking into the city's Museum of Modern Art and stealing five paintings, including works by Picasso and Matisse.
Staff at the museum were today being questioned by detectives who fear that the criminal may have had "people on the inside helping him".
There were three security guards in the building at the time, but each has told detectives that they saw nothing.
CCTV footage caught the "heavily disguised, burly figure" jumping through a smashed window at around 6.50am.
He is then believed to have a forced a high security lock to gain access to the most valuable works in the building, which is across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower.
The canvases are then thought to have been cut from their frames and taken away in a single bundle.
"It's an enormous crime, one of the biggest in art history," said a source close to the inquiry, who estimated that the five stolen paintings were worth at €500 million (£430 million).
That figure was later played down by Christophe Girard, deputy culture secretary at Paris City Hall, who suggested they were worth "just under €100 million (£86m).
Police and museum staff were yesterday left examining the empty frames as they began the hunt for the raider.
The paintings, which date from 1906 to 1922, represent some of the most important works of the early 20th century, said art experts.
The haul comprised Pigeon with Green Peas by Pablo Picasso (1912); Pastoral by Henri Matisse (1905/6); The Olive Tree near Estaque by Georges Braque (1906); The Woman with the Fan by Amedeo Modigliani (1919); and Still Life with Chandeliers by Fernand Leger (1922).
Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, called the theft "an intolerable attack on Paris's universal cultural heritage".
The Picasso was itself bequeathed in 1953 by Dr Maurice Girardin, whose legacy helped establish the museum itself.
The raid could find a place in history as one of the most famous of all time. The biggest art theft until now was a raid on the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990 in which 13 works of art worth $500 million were taken. The case remains unsolved.
Other significant thefts include the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa at the nearby Louvre. Italian immigrant Vincenzo Perugia hid in the museum overnight before getting away with the priceless painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It was finally returned in 1914.
In 1961 an unemployed lorry driver stole Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. Kempton Bunton later admitted walking into the gallery and then leaving with the massively expensive work under his arm.
Tim Marlow, the art historian, who presents for SkyArts, said last night: "These are works by the greatest figures of early 20th century art.
"That's irrefutable. You've got to say that this thief has good taste – he knew what he was taking."
Theories about why they were taken – for example whether they were stolen to order – have set the art world abuzz.
Despite the thief's success in stealing the paintings, art insurance professionals said he faced a harder task in selling them on.
Viscount Charles Dupplin, of Hiscox insurance, said he thought the thief – or thieves – were "almost certainly enthusiastic amateurs" who had decided to launch the raid after "getting excited" about recent high prices for Picassos and other works.
"I would have thought these people are congratulating themselves on stealing some fantastic things, but are now scratching their heads about how to turn them into cash," he said.
"There are not a lot of rich South Americans who want to buy such paintings on the black market."
Consequently he thought they would eventually be returned, "but we are talking about years".
But Anotonia Kimbell, of the Art Loss Register, said there were other ways to make money from them.
"They could attempt extortion with a so-called 'finder's fee'," she said.
Original article here.