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Magritte painting stolen at gunpoint

The Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte once said: "We must not fear daylight just because it almost always illuminates a miserable world." Two armed thieves put the artist's words into practice yesterday. They walked in broad daylight into a small museum in Brussels, put a gun to the head of a female employee and stole a nude painting of the artist's wife, valued at up to €3m (£2.7m).

"Two men, one of them Asian, one speaking English the other French, armed with a revolver, entered the museum just after it opened," said André Garitte, the curator of the Museé René Magritte in Jette, a northern suburb of the Belgian capital.

The two men, who were not masked, forced three employees and two Japanese tourists at gunpoint to lie down in the back yard. One of them climbed over a 5ft-high glass screen and removed the 60cm by 80cm canvas and its frame from the wall.

The stolen work, Olympia, painted in 1948, shows Magritte's wife, Georgette, reclining naked with a sea shell on her stomach. The canvas was painted in the house, now a small museum, where the raid took place. It was the painter's home for 24 years.

Johan Berckmans, a police spokesman, said: "This morning someone rang the bell of the museum asking if they could visit. He was let in and when inside he pulled out a pistol and ordered the woman to go back to the door to let a second person come inside. They fled on foot with the painting and left the scene in a car. The investigation is continuing but we have found no trace of the culprits."