Picasso, Monets lost in Dutch heist

International

Thieves broke into a Rotterdam museum on Tuesday and walked off with works from the likes of Picasso, Monet, Gauguin and Matisse potentially worth hundreds of millions.

Police haven't said how they pulled off the early-hours heist, but an expert who tracks stolen art said the robbers clearly knew what they were after.

"Those thieves got one hell of a haul," said Chris Marinello, who directs the Art Loss Register.

The heist at the Kunsthal museum is one of the largest in years in the Netherlands. "It's every museum director's worst nightmare," said Kunsthal director Emily Ansenk, who had been in Istanbul but returned immediately.

Willem van Hassel, the museum's chairman, said its security systems are automated, and do not use guards on site.

Police arrived at the scene five minutes after an alarm was triggered, he said. He described the museum's insurance as adequate for the exhibition.

The collection was on display as part of celebrations surrounding the museum's 20th anniversary.

Police spokeswoman Willemieke Romijn said investigators were reviewing videotapes of the theft, which took place around 3 am local time, and calling for any witnesses to come forward.

Art Loss Register's Marinello said the items taken could be worth "hundreds of millions of euros" if sold legally at auction. However, he said that was now impossible, as the paintings had been registered internationally as stolen.

The stolen paintings include Pablo Picasso's 1971 Harlequin Head; Claude Monet's 1901 Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London; Henri Matisse's 1919 Reading Girl in White and Yellow; Paul Gauguin's 1898 Girl in Front of Open Window; Meyer de Haan's Self-Portrait, around 1890.

Marinello said the thieves had limited options, such as seeking a ransom from the owners, the museum or the insurers. They could conceivably sell the paintings in the criminal market too, though any sale would likely be a small fraction of their potential auction value.

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