Art Thieves in France Take Monet, Other Paintings

French police are looking for five people who stole $1.5 million worth of paintings from a museum in Nice. As tourists milled around the Museum of Fine Arts, the masked gunmen stormed in and made off with four paintings that included a Monet.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's move from the effort to stop financial crime to the effort to stop museum crime, a not-so-successful effort. In France, thieves made off with four masterpieces in broad daylight. They took them from an art museum in Nice, and it turns out this is not the first time some of these painting have been stolen.

Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The five robbers wearing masks and jumpsuits waltzed in the front door of Nice's Musee des Beaux-Arts Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and made off with two works by Flemish artist Jan Breugel and two paintings by the impressionists Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet. Museum staff were ordered to lie on the floor at gunpoint while the canvasses were removed from the wall. The museum Sunday visitors like Nice resident Jan Rabet(ph) just looked on in mild surprise.

Mr. JAN HABET (Resident, Nice, France): (Through Translator) I didn't think it was a robbery. It just seemed they were taking the paintings away to restore them or something. But it was a little strange how they were wearing motorcycle helmets and masks.

BEARDSLEY: Bizarrely enough, the Sisley and Monet were stolen from the same museum 10 years ago, but were found a week later stashed in a boat moored in the Mediterranean Port. The museum's curator was later convicted of staging the heist where he even had himself taken hostage. The museum, which is housed in a former mansion and was opened to the public in 1928, has a collection of art spanning the past four centuries. French news outlets reporting on Sunday's incident have been quick to note than no security improvements have been undertaken since the first theft. No cameras, no alarms, no armed guards. Patricia Grimaud is the museum's vice curator.

Ms. PATRICIA GRIMAUD (Vice Curator, Musee des Beaux-Arts): (Through Translator) There was a physical, human surveillance, like every Sunday. And the paintings were hung on their wall hooks like every other painting in the museum. That's all I have to say about the matter.

BEARDSLEY: French police have launched an investigation into the theft, which they describe as a special order, because the priceless paintings are too well-known to be sold on the open market.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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