Monday, February 11, 2008

Masked Gunmen Steal Art Masterpieces in Zurich

"Count Lepic and his Daughters" by Edgar Degas (1871), and "Boy in a Red Waistcoat" by Paul Cézanne (1888).

"Poppies near Vetheuil" by Claude Monet (1879), "Chestnut in Bloom" by Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

Three thieves wearing ski masks, speaking accented German and toting guns, took 180 seconds to leave a Swiss private museum with negative white space after boosting a Cézanne, Degas, Van Gogh and Monet right off the walls from their glass enclosures. Shocked employees and gallery visitors were held at bay with the threat of violence as the signature pieces in the E. G. Bührle Collection were hastily shoved into a waiting getaway vehicle. Zürich, picturesque home of the mega gadget security locked down banks featuring numbered accounts, just endured Europe's worst art robbery worth over $163 million USD, making it a potential plot twist in a future Ocean 14- 36 script.
The burglars fled in a white van with possibly one of the paintings sticking out of the back, said Judith Hoedel, a police spokeswoman. Police were searching for witnesses who might have seen the van or caught a closer look at the men involved, she said, noting that one of the three spoke German with a heavy Slavic accent.

This is one of the largest robberies in Europe, and nearly comparable in value to the benchmark heist in 1990 of 12 works from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. At the time, that theft was said to be worth $200 million. While many of the paintings spirited out of the Gardner have been recovered, a priceless Vermeer, called "The Concert," is still missing.

The art stolen in Zurich came from the collection of Emil Georg Buhrle, a German industrialist based in Switzerland who built his fortune selling arms to both the Nazis and Allied forces during World War II. A former art student, Bührle amassed one of Europe's great Impressionist and early modern collections after the war, acquiring the celebrated "Boy in the Red Waistcoat" in 1948 -- the Paul Cézanne painting stolen Sunday. (AP Photo)
Major Embarrassing Swiss Problem is this is the second major art robbery in less than a week, with two Picassos being carted off from the small town of Pfäffikon as if they were free pastries. All of the stolen art is well known, albeit rare works, photographed many times. This makes selling on the open market tough, with the black market with no need for fussy time swallowing legitimate paper trails. The fingers crossed hope is the thieves took random works without a buyer in the hopes of fencing them when the investigation is not on the front burner. That may be wishful Tinkerbell thinking as London's recent art auction showed no ill economic effects and plenty of high dollar bidders vying to own more modern art rather than a bunch of world famous 19th century masters with differing styles.

Sue Roe gives us insight into the core of the masters by examining the influences of their natural environments on their art in The Private Lives of the Impressionist. This book is a new and important addition to a body of work studying Impressionism. Renoir, Cézanne, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh among others are followed in intimate detail noting the significant and worst moments of their lives.

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