South African art heist: Police recover paintings stolen from Pretoria Art Museum


Christies auction house employee's pose with a painting by South African artist Irma Stern entitled 'Malay Girl with Hibiscus' in London, on December 12, 2008.



JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police have recovered all but one of the $2 million worth of paintings by South African artists stolen during a brazen daylight robbery at the Pretoria Art Museum.

Four of the five paintings were found Tuesday in a church cemetery in Port Elizabeth, a city on South Africa's east coast some 600 miles from the capital Pretoria. The fifth painting is still missing.

Sandra Janse van Rensburg, a police spokeswoman, said the paintings were found under a bench in the cemetery yard of a Dutch Reformed Church.

"Our dog unit of Port Elizabeth received information from an informer which led them to the Dutch Reformed Church," she told local radio station Algoa FM. "At the back of the property they found four paintings and it seems to be similar to the paintings that were stolen."

Photos on Algoa FM's website showed the paintings stacked in a pile underneath a stone bench.

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Three men, pretending to be art students and a professor, entered the Pretoria museum Sunday morning with a "shopping list" of valuable paintings.

They held the museum curator at gunpoint, tied him up, and took off with six paintings, officials said.

A $1.3-million painting by renowned artist Irma Stern, called "Two Malay Musicians," was apparently too big to fit in the getaway car and left behind.

The five stolen paintings were listed as "Fishing Boats" by Irma Stern, "Street Scene" by Gerard Sekoto, "Cat and Petunias" by Maggie Laubser, "Eland and Bird" by JH Pierneef and "Hottentot Chief" by Hugo Naude.

According to the South African Press Association, the work by Sekoto, worth about $800,000, is still missing. 

There was no obvious damage to the recovered paintings, SAPA reported.

The museum said Monday it has closed for a week, and removed its most valuable works of art as a precautionary measure.

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