Stolen Matisse, Picasso and Monet paintings ‘burned in oven’
Forensic specialists find traces of paint, canvas and nails in ashes in Romanian house
Reading Girl in White and Yellow by Henri Matisse (1919), one of seven paintings stolen last October from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam
Police conduct a forensic examination of the crime scene. Photograph: Reuters
A woman in Romania is suspected of burning several multi-million euro paintings - including a Matisse, a Picasso and a Monet - after museum officials said ash found in her oven contains paint, canvas and nails.
The finding is evidence that Olga Dogaru might have been telling the truth when she claimed to have burned the paintings, which were taken from a Dutch museum last year in a daring daylight heist.
Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, director of Romania’s National History Museum, said museum forensic specialists found “small fragments of painting primer, the remains of canvas, the remains of paint” and copper and steel nails, some of which pre-dated the 20th century.
“We discovered a series of substances which are specific to paintings and pictures,” he said, including lead, zinc and azurite.
He refused to say definitively that the ashes were those of the seven paintings stolen from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal gallery last year, because he said it was not his position to do so. He said justice officials would make that decision.
He did venture that if the remains were those of the paintings, it was “a crime against humanity" to destroy the artworks. “I can’t believe in 2013 that we come across such acts,” he said.
Mr Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said forensic specialists at the museum have been analysing ashes from Ms Dogaru’s stove since March and will hand their results to prosecutors next week.
Ms Dogaru’s son is charged with stealing the seven paintings, which were stolen in October in the biggest art heist to hit the Netherlands for more than a decade. Thieves broke in through a rear emergency exit of the gallery, grabbed the paintings off the wall and fled, all within two minutes.
The stolen works have an estimated value of €100 million if sold at auction. Thieves took Pablo Picasso’s 1971 Harlequin Head; Claude Monet’s 1901 Waterloo Bridge, London, and Charing Cross Bridge, London; Henri Matisse’s 1919 Reading Girl in White and Yellow; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 Girl in Front of Open Window; Meyer de Haan’s Self-Portrait of around 1890; and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work Woman with Eyes Closed.
Three Romanian suspects were arrested in January, but the paintings have not been found.
Romanian prosecutors say Ms Dogaru - whose son Radu is the alleged heist ringleader - claims she buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug the paintings up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.
Prosecutors have not said whether they believe her account, but Pavel Susara, a Romanian art critic, said the story has the ring of truth. “Olga Dogaru describes how she made the fire, put wood on it and burned the paintings, like she was burning a pair of slippers,” he said. “She’s either a repressed writer or she is describing exactly what she did.”