PARIS - A lone thief stole five paintings worth up to half a billion euros ($613 million) total, including major works by Picasso and Matisse, in a brazen overnight heist Thursday from a Paris modern art museum, police and prosecutors said.
The paintings were reported missing early Thursday from the Paris Museum of Modern Art, across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower, according to Paris police. Investigators have cordoned off the museum, in one of the French capital's most tourist-frequented neighborhoods.
A single masked intruder was caught on a video surveillance camera taking the paintings away, according to the Paris prosecutor's office. The intruder entered by cutting a padlock on a gate and breaking a museum window, it said.
Their collective worth is estimated at as much as €500 million ($613 million), the prosecutor's office said.
The stolen works were "Le pigeon aux petits-pois" (The Pigeon with the Peas) an ochre and brown Cubist oil painting by Pablo Picasso; "La Pastorale" (Pastoral), an oil painting of nudes on hillside by Henri Matisse; "L'olivier pres de l'Estaque" (Olive Tree near Estaque) by Georges Braque; "La femme a l'eventail" (Woman with a Fan) by Amedeo Modigliani; and "Nature-mort aux chandeliers" (Still Life with Chandeliers) by Fernand Leger.
Red-and-white tape surrounded the museum, where investigators were studying surveillance video. Paper signs on the museum doors said it was closed for technical reasons.
On a cordoned-off balcony behind the museum, police in blue gloves and face masks examined the broken window and empty frames. The paintings appeared to have been carefully removed from the dissembled frames, not sliced out.
A security guard at the museum said the paintings were discovered missing by a night watchman just before 7 a.m. (0500 GMT, 1 a.m. Thursday EST). The guard was not authorized to be publicly named because of the museum policy.
Museum officials and police would not immediately comment on reports that the alarm system had malfunctioned or been disabled.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said in a statement that he was "saddened and shocked by this theft, which is an intolerable attack on Paris' universal cultural heritage."