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live A painting of Picasso stolen from the National Gallery in Athens

09 January 2012 / 13:01:14  GRReporter
3967 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

 Pablo Picasso’s "Head of a woman" was painted in the late 1940s. It was a gift for Greece from the painter himself in 1949 as a reward for the courage and heroism of its people against Nazism. The thieves took away with them also a landscape by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian painted in 1905, as well as a black and white picture of the Italian  Guglielmo Caccia - Monkalvo. Both paintings had been donated to the gallery by Greek citizens in 1963 and 1907.

According to the police, the robbery took place at about 4:30 this morning by an unknown number of perpetrators. The building is located on Vasileos Constantinou Avenue opposite the Hilton Hotel in a central location in the Greek capital. He, or they, disarmed the alarm and entered the building of the National Gallery through a small balcony door, which is on one of the side walls.

While the thief was taking his plunder in the sector of the gallery where periodic exhibitions are held, the motion detector was activated. The night watchman went directly into the hall, where he found and chased the thief. In his attempt to escape he left one, also very valuable, piece of work by Piet Mondrian  - a landscape, presenting a traditional rural estate. The police believe that the robbery was conducted within about seven minutes.

The guard subsequently informed the private security company, to which the security system of the gallery is connected and called the police station in the Attica region.

During the investigation police found that the perpetrators of the theft had disarmed part of the alarm system as early as 19:58 on 8th January. He, or they, distorted the side door without opening it. As a result, when the alarm was activated and the security guard checked the room he did not find the presence of people or signs of intrusion and stopped the alarm.

Then the perpetrator or perpetrators repeated this action several times disarming various parts of the alarm system without, however, entering the gallery. The guard did not find anyone in any of these cases.

In the last stage of the operation perpetrators entered through the distorted window and took the works taking them out of their frames. Greek police began a preliminary investigation of the case and put the pictures for international search. An investigation has been started for the tracing and arrest of the perpetrators.

According to information which appeared in some media and based on unnamed police sources the thief of the paintings is one person. They described him as a tall, thin man with open facial features and dark clothes. Police found in the gallery a paper-knife, using which the thief is believed to have cut the two stolen paintings from the frames. The police believe that the guard of the gallery found him at the moment when he was doing the same with the second picture of Modrian.

Greek police believe that the robbery was the work of international trafficking networks of artistic works. Authorities are investigating the possibility of the robbery in Athens being connected with the robbery at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in May 2010 when five paintings by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, worth a total of around 100 million euro were stollen.

According to the Greek police the two thefts are similar in the modus operandi of the perpetrators. In both cases there were problems with the alarm system and the actions of the thieves were almost identical. They also refer to the theft of a Picasso painting in San Francisco in July 2010. The American police, however, acted very quickly and the work of art was found some hours later and the thief caught.

The theft at the National Gallery caused many critical comments in the Greek media. According to some sources the possibility for the robbery to have been prevented was very real with the right discretion at the time of the activation of the alarm before 20:00 and shortly after this on 8th January. In both cases, however, this was not given due weight and security was not increased. Unnamed police sources indicate that the guard on duty called the headquarters of the private security firm, as well as the police call centre, which sent a police car. Guards and police, however, decided that the alarm was triggered by birds that hit the windows.

Despite expectations, the management of the gallery did not call a press conference for the media representatives. Repeated attempts of journalists to obtain minimum information, even if only related to which paintings were stolen, were doomed to complete failure. The only people we managed to talk to were the employees at the service entrance of the gallery, who told us that no official statements on the case are expected.

Tags: Pablo Picasso Head of a woman National Art Gallery in Athens robbery crime news
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