Saturday, May 22, 2010

Image of Paris art thief captured on CCTV "like cubist painting"

Detail of

'L'olivier près de l'Estaque' by Georges Braque was also taken Photo: Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

But they are so poor that they resemble a ‘cubist painting’ and are unlikely to be able to identify him.

The problem with what one investigator described as ‘faulty CCTV’ is the latest in a catalogue of embarrassment for the city’s Museum of Modern Art, which underwent a pounds 15 million security refit just four years ago.

The problems included an alarm system which had been broken for almost two months and three ‘dozing’ guards who ‘saw nothing’.

With the alarm’s array of sirens and sensors out of action, the intruder was able to slip into the museum on Thursday morning and calmly remove a Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani and Leger in just under 15 minutes.

Now it has emerged that he stared into at least one of the internal closed circuit cameras for ‘a few seconds’.

‘It’s a terrible image,’ said the investigator, ‘It looks just like a poor cubist painting — disjointed and strange and with no overall meaning.

‘We’re trying to piece it together slowly but it is almost certain that we will not be able to identify the man from it.’

The investigator also revealed that the thief had expert knowledge of the Museum, picking out three of its 20 galleries after breaking in through the East Wing.

After taking four of the paintings, including the Picasso, from two, he walked to another to pick up the Modigliani. All of the works were removed from their frames and then rolled up into a single bundle.

‘We’re trying to find finger prints or even DNA samples on what he left behind,’ said the source.

Christophe Girard, deputy mayor of Paris, confirmed that the cameras were working but at some point ‘went opaque’.

An unnamed colleague of the deputy mayor, meanwhile, said that none of the works were insured.

“To put it bluntly — the town council will have to foot the bill,” he said.

Paris City Hall, which is run by the Socialist Party, was officially the manager of the permanent exhibition of 20th Century modern art from which the paintings were stolen.

They were: Pigeon with Green Peas by Pablo Picasso (1912); Pastoral by Henri Matisse (1905); 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).

In 2006 the museum reopened after what was supposed to have been a ‘state-of-the-art refit’ , which included the fitting of the Spie alarm system.

However, it had been broken for almost two months on the morning of the raid because of a missing part.

Both city hall and Spie are carrying out internal investigations, as police seek the raider responsible for the crime.

Confirming an ‘internal administrative enquiry’, Paris mayor Bernard Delanoe said ‘all have questions to answer.’

Nobody at either City Hall or the museum would make an official comment about the vexed issue of insurance.

Viscount Charles Dupplin, of Hiscox insurance, said he thought the criminals involved were ‘almost certainly enthusiastic amateurs’ who had decided to launch the raid after ‘getting excited’ about recent high prices for Picassos and other works.

America’s FBI estimates the stolen art market at being worth more than pounds 5 billion. The Art Loss Register lists more than 170,000 pieces of stolen and missing pieces.

Picasso is the world’s most stolen artist due to his prolific output and the value of his works. The Art Loss Register lists some 550 missing Picassos.

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