Gallery thieves go fishing to haul in a lady

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The Independent Online
What does it take to steal a famous painting? To judge by the latest heist to hit the world's beleaguered art market this weekend, not much: good timing, a healthy dose of chutzpah, some poor museum security and a fishing rod.

The missing painting in question is Portrait of a Lady, a late work by Gustav Klimt, which normally hangs on the walls of a gallery in Piacenza in northern Italy. Until an as-yet- unspecified point last week there were three Klimts in Italy; by now, it is a fair guess to say there are only two.

The thieves could not have picked a more vulnerable target. The Ricci- Oddi Gallery was in a state of upheaval since many of its most prized items were being transported across town for an exhibition of 19th- and early 20th-century art due to open next month, while the rest were put into mothballs in anticipation of a lengthy closure for restoration work.

The Klimt was last seen on Tuesday, but its disappearance was not reported until Saturday night because the gallery's curators assumed it had been put into store.

The police's theory is that the thieves lowered a fish-hook from a skylight and simply plucked the Klimt away. The frame of the painting was recovered from the gallery's roof. It is not clear if the gallery's alarm was circumvented or if it simply failed to go off.

Art theft is becoming an increasingly fiendish form of international crime, second only to drug trafficking as a means for organised crime syndicates from Colombia to Istanbul to raise money.

Edvard Munch's The Scream disappeared from the National Gallery in Oslo on the opening day of the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. The thieves, who entered the gallery by ladder, left a note saying: "Thanks for the poor security." The painting was recovered a year later thanks to an undercover operation by Scotland Yard.

In 1990, two thieves dressed up as policemen to steal three Rembrandts, five Degas, and a clutch of other paintings from a museum in Boston. The pictures have never resurfaced.

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