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Culture

Impressionist Masterpieces Stolen from Swiss Museum

In what investigators called the biggest robbery in Swiss history, brazen thieves stole four paintings by leading Impressionists, including Monet, Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh, from a Zurich museum.

Vincent van Gogh's Blossoming Chestnut Branches, provided by the Buehrle collection

Where did this painting Gogh?

The four Impressionist works were worth an estimated 180 million Swiss francs (112.5 million euros, $163 million). The paintings were stolen from the Emil Buehrle collection in Zurich, Swiss police said Monday, Feb. 11.

Museum director Lukas Gloor said the stolen works are "the four finest in the museum's collection."

Paul Cezanne's painting The Boy in the Red Vest provided by the Buehrle collection

Police are looking for "The Boy in the Red Vest"

The three masked gunmen forced their way into the museum Sunday. They ordered staff to lie on the ground, loaded the paintings into a white car and drove off towards the suburb of Zollikon, southeast of Zurich.

"We're talking about the biggest ever robbery carried out in Switzerland, even Europe," Zurich police spokesman Mario Cortesi told journalists.

Reward being offered

The paintings are so well known that police said it will be impossible to sell them on the open market. No ransom has been received. The museum is offering a reward of 100,000 Swiss francs for information leading to the return of the paintings.

Police said they knew little about the Buehrle robbers except that one of the men spoke German with a Slavic accent.

The room at the E.G. Buehrle Collection in Zurich, where gunmen robbed four paintings, after they came in through the door at left.

The crime scene was left nearly bare

The four stolen works included: Claude Monet's "Poppies near Vetheuil," Vincent van Gogh's "Blossoming Chestnut Branch," Paul Cezanne's "Boy in a Red Waistcoat," and Edgar Degas's "Count Lepic and his Daughters."

Buehrle, an industrialist, died in 1956. He made his fortune selling munitions to both sides during World War II. He began collecting art in the 1930s, but most of his important Impressionist purchases were made between 1951 and 1956.

The museum opened in 1960 and holds more than 200 paintings.

Picassos stolen

Edgar Degas' painting Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter, provided by the Buehrle collection

Thieves took the "four finest"

The Sunday theft was certainly in the league of top art thefts of recent decades.

In 1988 three Van Gogh works worth $182 million were stolen from a museum in Arnhem, the Netherlands. In 1990 numerous paintings worth $145 million were taken from the Gardner Museum in Boston.

Last Thursday in Pfaeffikon, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Zurich, two works by Picasso were stolen in another robbery. The paintings were worth an estimated 2.8 million euros.

Claude Monet's painting Poppies near Vetheuil, provided by the Buehrle collection

Monet's masterpiece is missing

The works had been on loan from a collection in Hanover, Germany to an exhibition at Pfaeffikon's Seedamm-Kulturzentrum. The Sprengel museum in Hanover, Germany is offering an unspecified reward for the paintings' safe return.

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