Major Works Stolen From Stockholm

WITHOUT tripping any alarms, thieves working in darkness bored holes in the roof of the Museum of Modern Art, lowered themselves to the galleries, and pulled off one of the largest art heists ever on Monday, Nov. 8.

Their haul, valued at $52 million, included paintings by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, museum officials said.

The theft occurred sometime during the night and went undetected until a security guard discovered the break-in the following morning, police said. There was no explanation of why alarms did not go off or were not heard.

Boats were dispatched to search the waters around the small island where the museum is located, and helicopters hovered overhead, looking for thieves whose trail had gone cold.

A few other museums and warehouses are on the island in downtown Stockholm, as well as some apartments and offices. Police earlier had blocked the only bridge to the island, but later opened it to traffic.

The paintings, which were part of the museum's permanent exhibition, were ``eight of the museum's most important works: five paintings and a statue by Picasso and two paintings by Georges Braque,'' museum spokeswoman Eva-Lena Lidman said.

Curator Olle Granath said the works are well-known and would be impossible to sell on the open market.

Even so, as the price of masterpieces has soared, the black market demand has kept pace, inspiring a series of thefts that has forced galleries and museums to increase security.

In the largest art theft on record, on March 18, 1990, two robbers dressed as police officers stole works estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Those paintings, including works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Vermeer, have not been recovered, said Constance Lowenthal, executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research in New York. The organization compiles computerized files on stolen art around the world.

The Picassos stolen in Stockholm were listed as ``The Spring'' (1921); ``Dragonfly'' (1929; ``The Painter'' (1930, oil on wood); ``Woman With Black Eyes'' (also known as Dora Maar); and ``Woman With Blue Collar'' (1941). The 16-inch bronze sculpture ``Woman'' is from 1931.

The stolen Braque paintings were ``Chateau La Roche-Guyon'' (1909) and ``Still Life'' (1928).

Picasso's ``The Spring'' depicts a woman lying on her side and was painted during the artist's neo-classical period.

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