Stolen Swiss paintings recovered

February 19, 2008 9:47:33 AM PST
Two Impressionist paintings stolen in one of Europe's largest art thefts have been recovered in an abandoned car, police said Tuesday.The pictures by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet were among four paintings worth $163 million that were stolen from a private museum in a Feb. 10 armed robbery.

The two other paintings taken from the E.G. Buehrle Collection - one by Edgar Degas and the other by Paul Cezanne - remain missing, Philipp Hotzenkoecherle, commandant of the Zurich city police, told reporters.

The recovered paintings - Monet's "Poppy field at Vetheuil" and van Gogh's "Blooming Chestnut Branches" - were discovered in a parking lot in front of a Zurich mental hospital on Monday. It was unknown how long the white sedan in which the paintings were found had been parked there, Hotzenkoecherle said.

The pictures, worth a combined $64 million, are in good condition and were found still under the glass behind which they were displayed in the museum, he said. They were identified by museum director Lukas Gloor after a thorough inspection.

"I am incredibly relieved that two paintings have returned," Gloor told a news conference. "We're very happy that both the paintings are in absolutely impeccable shape."

Zurich police spokesman Marco Cortesi said he did not know whether a ransom had been paid to recover the paintings. Gloor, standing next to him, said, "I can't give any information on that."

Gloor said the two paintings still missing includes "our collection's landmark "Boy in the Red Waistcoat."

That painting, by Cezanne, alone is worth $91 million. The other painting is Degas' "Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter."

Local radio station Radio 24, citing an unidentified witness, reported that the building supervisor at the hospital found the paintings in an unlocked car.

The hospital is only a few hundred yards from the museum. Police sealed off the hospital grounds and forensic experts went over the vehicle meticulously before it was towed away.

Police initially said the vehicle may have been used by the three robbers when they made their escape with the four paintings from the museum.

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

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Associated Press writers Onna Coray in Zurich and Eliane Engeler and Alexander G. Higgins in Geneva contributed to this report.

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