Thieves Steal Renoir Landscape Painting in Vienna

Three well-dressed men suspected of being in the black market for artwork and caught on surveillance video stole a Pierre Auguste Renoir painting Monday from the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna.

The 11-inch-by-16-inch landscape, prepared for auction, is worth about $135,000 or 160,000 euros, the BloombergQuint reported. It had been on display, ready for a pending auction. Renoir was a French Impressionist.

The New York Times reported the painting, set for auction Wednesday, at between $131,000 to $181,000.

Dorotheum officials have since unlisted it from the program as Vienna authorities investigate the theft. One art expert, David Norman, indicated in an interview with Bloomberg that the loss is less than significant in the world of fine art.

“It’s terrible that it got stolen, but I don’t think it will be noticed by the collecting community,” said Norman, a New York private art dealer.

Artnet reported the painting sold at Sotheby’s for $56,538 in 1996.

A police spokesman confirmed that the three men left via separate exits and fled the building, NewsSky.com reported. Two of them carried large shopping bags. 

Police said in a statement that video footage caught the three men on the second floor of the Dorotheum gallery pulling the painting from its frame.

“The ‘obviously professional’ trio dispersed and left through different exits, with two of them carrying shopping bags, pictures from the cameras released by police show,” reported Bloomberg.

Authorities consider the three men professional thieves and part of a black market trade for artwork, reportedly as lucrative as the drug market. Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, maintains a database of stolen artwork. Since March, Interpol reported, 50,000 art pieces have been reported stolen.

The Art Loss Register reportedly lists 393 stolen Renoirs and 30 fakes.

Norman said many of Renoir’s other smaller works were often cut from larger canvases of multiple oil studies found at the artist’s estate.

However, The New York Times quoted Vienna police Inspector Patrick Maierhofer, who said the suspects did not cut the Renoir from the frame, but he declined to describe how it was removed.

“We don’t want to give advice to other people,” Inspector Maierhofer said, referring to the black trade market.

“Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes” translates to “Gulf, Sea, Green Cliffs.”

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