The easy-to-learn art of stealing priceless paintings

It only took three minutes, three masked men, and a couple of automatic weapons to steal four paintings worth a total of US$170 million in one of Europe’s biggest art robberies. Just before closing time, the thieves burst into the Impressionist room of Zurich’s Emil Bührle Foundation and forced security guards and visitors to the floor at gunpoint. Then, barking their threats in heavy Slavic accents, they ripped masterpieces by Cezanne, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh from the walls. As the alarms of the foundation shredded the Sunday afternoon air, the thieves threw the paintings into the boot of a beaten white car and raced off into the Swiss countryside.

Although two of the paintings were later found in a car abandoned at Zurich’s Psychiatric University, the ease of the robbery was a national embarrassment. Only four days before, two Picassos worth US$4.5 million had been stolen in a night-time raid from the nearby town of Pfaeffikon. Nothing has been seen of the stolen art since. And, once again, the Swiss raids demonstrated how vulnerable museums, galleries and private homes are to art theft. When four men burst into Rio’s Chacara do Ceu museum and threatened tourists with machine guns and grenades they escaped with a Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Dali worth a total of US$60 million. Their timing was impeccable. Outside in the city’s streets thousands of revellers were celebrating Rio’s famous carnival. It was the perfect cover for an escape. To read the full story by Andy click on the images above.

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