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Art Thieves Wreak Havoc Yet Again

Update Date: Oct 17, 2012 09:05 AM EDT

The theft of artistic masterpieces is at an all-time high. Seemingly priceless works of art have been stolen from museums all over the world. What is the payoff for a crime of this type? You can't take a Picasso to a neighborhood fence. You can't pawn it or try to sell it on your own. The value in these works of art is in its novelty, its uniqueness and the price we place on its beauty. These things are not easily quantifiable and/or can be traded on the open market.

In the past year alone: on August 21, 2010: Van Gogh's "Poppy Flowers", worth 55 million dollars (42 million euros), is stolen from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil museum after it is cut out of its frame. It has yet to be found. On May 20, 2010: A lone thief steals works by Matisse, Picasso and three other modern masters from a Paris gallery as it emerges an alarm was out of order at the time of the 120-million-dollar heist. The works are still missing.

Thieves struck once again yesterday. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the bandits plundered an art museum in the Netherlands that was celebrating its 20th birthday and made away with seven paintings it had borrowed from a wealthy Dutch investor who had recently passed away, including valuable works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud.

Investigators have determined that the theft occurred at about 3am at the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam. The stolen paintings span parts of three centuries: Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait" of 1890 and Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window"; Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London," both from 1901; Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow" and Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head"; and Freud's haunting 2002 portrait "Woman With Eyes Closed."

The theft "was carefully thought out, cleverly conceived and it was quickly executed, so that suggests professionals," said Charles Hill, a retired Scotland Yard art detective turned private investigator "The volume," he added, "suggests that whoever stole it owes somebody a lot of money, and it's got to be a major-league villain."

"My best guess is that someone doesn't have the cash to repay a loan," he said.

Marc Masurovsky, a historian and an expert on plundered art in Washington, noted the possibility that the theft was "a contract job," adding: "These works were picked out. Could it be they had been targeted well before the theft, and the exhibit was the opportunity to strike?"

I don't know many bookies who would take a work by Monet in lieu of the Steelers not making the spread next week.

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