During the early morning hours Wednesday, a lone masked thief brazenly stole five important works of art from the Paris Museum of Modern Art, including an oil painting by Pablo Picasso. The total value of the stolen paintings is estimated to be $616 million, according to the Paris Prosecutor's Office.
The stolen works of art, which were cut from their frames, are Picasso's The Pigeon with the Peas, Amedeo Modigliani's Woman with a Fan, Georges Braque's Olive Tree near Estaque, Henri Matisse's Pastoral and Fernand Leger's Still Life with Chandeliers.
If the paintings are not found quickly, it could take decades for them to be recovered -- if they ever are.
Indeed, a similar theft took place in 1990 at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the 13 works of art stolen that day have yet to be recovered. Visitors to the Gardner Museum can still see the frames that hang empty as an homage to the missing paintings and as placeholders anticipating their eventual return. The museum continues to work closely with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office to find the stolen artwork, and is offering a reward of $5 million for information leading to the recovery of the missing works in good condition.
It is next to impossible for thieves to sell works of art, except on the black market. Works of art as high profile as the ones that were stolen Wednesday are typically registered with the Art Loss Register, the world's largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiques and collectibles. In addition to its role as an information clearinghouse, the Art Loss Register also offers search and recovery services to collectors, the art trade, insurers and worldwide law enforcement agencies.
The Art Loss Register has been instrumental in recovering several important works of art, including Pablo Picasso's Woman in White Reading a Book, which was stolen in 1940, and recovered in 2005. It also helped recover Paul Cezanne's Still Life with Fruit and a Jug which was stolen in 1978 and recovered in 1999, and Edouard Manet's Still Life with Peaches, which was stolen in 1977 and recovered in 1997.
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