Two down, two to go: Swiss police find half of stolen art

If you were looking for two paintings, worth $64 million, and half of a more than $160-million-dollar art heist just the week before, you’d naturally check out the insane asylum, right?

Ironically enough, the insane heist of four paintings – a Monet, a van Gogh, a Degas and a Cezanne – from the Beuhrle Collection in Zurich, Switzerland, on Feb. 10 – has ended, halfway at least, just a ways down the road from where the brazen theft initially took place, at the Zurich mental hospital, in a white car, with both paintings still under the museum display glass they were encased in at the Beuhrle.

The search for the paintings, well documented in the European press, has been nothing short of frantic, and the embarrassment for the gallery has been colossal. The theft was just the latest of great masterworks targeted by thieves around the globe and underscored the need for owners and caretakers of the world’s artistic treasures to institute more comprehensive protective measures.

Monet’s Poppy Field at Vetheuil, and van Gogh’s Blooming Chestnut Branches were the two artworks that were recovered.

The most valuable, Cezanne’s Boy in the Red Waistcoat, and the least valuable, Degas’ Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter, are still missing. “Most valuable” and “least valuable” are relative in this case, $91M and $9M respectively.

“I am incredibly relieved that two paintings have returned,” Museum Director Lukas Gloor told the Associated Press. “We’re very happy that both the paintings are in absolutely impeccable shape, but we must not forget,” he added, “that two more paintings of our collection are still missing, including our collection’s landmark Boy in the Red Waistcoat.”

The paintings were initially discovered on Monday, Feb. 18, President’s Day in the U.S., by a Zurich University Psychiatric Hospital parking lot attendant, who noticed an unlocked white sedan, with a couple of large pieces of fine art in the back seat, and immediately notified authorities. The parking lot was sealed and the artworks taken back.

Authorities did not speculate on how long the car had been parked in the lot, whether it was the white car the three robbers were seen leaving the heist in, or why the two paintings in particular were left behind.

It’s been posited by staff at the Beuhrle Collection that it was because the size of the two paintings made it prohibitively difficult to transport – and sell – the stolen paintings.

Zurich police spokesman Marco Cortesi said the clinic employee who found the paintings would get part of a $90,000 reward. He said the exact amount has yet to be determined.

Authorities have yet to solve the smaller theft of two Picassos from nearby Pfaeffikon, Switzerland, a few days before this one.

“Connections with other arts thefts in the country and abroad are being examined,” said Cortesi.

Interpol, which has been coordinating the international search for the paintings, said it was unable to comment on any developments because that would be up to Swiss authorities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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