Rotterdam - Seven masterpieces, including paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Gauguin, were stolen from a Dutch museum in a pre-dawn heist on Tuesday, police said, with an expert adding the haul could be worth up to €200m.
Alerted by an alarm but arriving at the museum in Rotterdam after the thief or thieves had fled, police said they had launched a major investigation that includes interviewing possible witnesses and examining closed-circuit television.
"On Tuesday morning seven artworks were stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam," police said in a statement, adding the burglary took place at around 03:00 (01:00 GMT).
The art theft is the biggest in the Netherlands in more than 20 years.
Museum director Emily Ansenk, who flew back to Rotterdam after hearing of the theft during a visit to Turkey, told a press conference that what had happened was "a nightmare for any museum".
The stolen paintings were "unique works that are known around the world", she said.
They are Pablo Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Henri Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune, Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London, Paul Gauguin's Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee, Meyer de Haan's Autoportrait and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed.
After having initially declined to name the stolen paintings, the police said that after consulting with the owners, they can now release photographs of the works.
The chairperson of the museum's board, Willem van Hassel, told journalists that "technical security had been chosen deliberately which meant that nobody was at the museum but there was video".
He declined to discuss the value of the stolen works, but an expert at the Cornette de Saint-Cyr auction house in Paris who requested anonymity, said the paintings were worth "€150m and €200m".
"A major investigation is under way and forensics are at the scene," Rotterdam police spokesperson Patricia Wessels told AFP. "We're investigating how they got access, what time it happened and who did it."
The Dutch broadcaster NOS said the haul was worth "millions and millions of euros", but the paintings are so famous that it will be difficult to get anything like their real value on the black market.
It is the biggest art theft in The Netherlands since 20 paintings were stolen from Amsterdam's Van Gogh museum in 1991.
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