December 20, On This Day
Three minutes — that’s all it took for a gang of thieves to swiftly get into one of South America’s most major art museums and make off with art by famed Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and Brazilian modernist painter Cândido Portinari.
The heist took place at the São Paulo Museum of Art or Museu de Arte de São Paulo (also known as MASP) on December 20, 2007. Around 5.09 am, three men invaded the premises and took the two paintings, considered amongst the most valuable in the museum. These were O Lavrador de Café (The Coffee Farmer), by Portinari, and the Portrait of Suzanne Bloch by Picasso.
Art experts estimated value of the paintings at about USD 55 or 56 million.
When police arrived at the scene they found a hydraulic jack, a crow bar and an earpiece they believed may have been used to communicate with accomplices outside the museum. The thieves ignored other valuable paintings, including works by Renoir and Matisse.
There was a big showdown later when it was found that the MASP had no alarm system and no sensors. Video security cameras captured some of the raid but, since it had no infrared capability, the images were obscure. Four unarmed guards were changing shift at the time of the robbery. The museum was open about the fact that it could not afford better security, despite housing some of the world’s most precious art. Moreover, many of the art works on display were even uninsured.
The story took yet another twist, when the paintings were recovered by the Brazilian police just three weeks later, on January 8, 2008, in the city of Ferraz de Vasconcelos, Greater São Paulo.