Just a few minutes in the early hours of Tuesday morning were enough for thieves to pull off the biggest art heist this century. One estimate of the value of the works stolen was over 300 million euros.
Rotterdam’s Kunsthal had a security system and police arrived five minutes after an alarm sounded, but that was enough time for paintings by Gauguin, Matisse, Meyer de Haan, Picasso, Freud and a pair of Monets to disappear.
They were part of the first-ever public exhibition of the Triton Foundation’s picture collection, 150 works.
“The Kunsthal is 20 years old and this collection was unique. But we’ve had many other unique collections on display and up to now everything was fine, just like at other museums. You have to realise that whatever you do, 100% security isn’t possible,” said the museum’s Willem van Hassel.
The last comparable art theft was in 1991 when 20 Van Goghs were snatched in Amsterdam.
“These paintings will remain in the criminal world for many years. Maybe because they can’t sell them they might destroy them, but again, it’s impossible to sell them,” said security expert Ton Cremers.
Police say a ransom demand is more likely, and are wondering how a supposedly state-of-the-art security system was breached so easily, with no obvious sign of forced entry.