French police recover stolen Monet painting

/ Source: The Associated Press

Police on Wednesday recovered a Monet landscape and three other paintings that were stolen by masked gunmen from a museum on the French Riviera last August, judicial officials said.

The paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice were discovered in a utility vehicle parked in the port city of Marseille, the prosecutor’s office said.

About 10 people were brought in for questioning in simultaneous sweeps in Nice, Marseille and nearby Bandol and their homes were searched, the prosecutor’s office said.

Police said investigators tracked the people for weeks and moved in as suspects were planning a sale of the art.

The paintings were stolen Aug. 5 by gunmen as a handful of visitors milled about the museum in Nice.

The stolen paintings were Monet’s 1897 “Cliffs near Dieppe,” the 1890 “Lane of Poplars near Moret” by fellow Impressionist Alfred Sisley and Flemish master Jan Brueghel the Elder’s 17th century “Allegory of Earth” and “Allegory of Water.”

Together, they are worth about $1.55 million, police have said.

The Monet and Sisley had vanished from the museum’s walls before. In 1998, the then-curator staged a heist in which masked, armed men took him “hostage” and forced him to take them to the museum. The men fled — in the curator’s car.

The paintings were found in a boat docked in Nice harbor. The curator was convicted and served 18 months in prison.

The Sisley is on its third theft. It was also stolen in 1978 while on loan at an exhibit in Marseille.