Brazil Museum Uninsured for Stolen Picasso

December 27, 2007

Brazil’s premier modern art museum had no insurance on paintings by Pablo Picasso and Candido Portinari stolen in a brazen burglary, the museum’s spokesman said on Saturday.

Three thieves, armed with nothing more than a crow bar and a car jack, took three minutes to break into the Sao Paulo Museum of Art before dawn Thursday and steal Picasso’s “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch,” and Portinari’s “O Lavrador de Cafe.”

“None of the museum’s 8,000 works of art are insured,” Eduardo Cosomano said by telephone. “Insuring all them would be financially unviable.” Cosomano said that to protect its collection the museum has always relied on “unarmed guards patrolling the interior of the museum 24 hours a day,” and security cameras which on Thursday produced only blurred images of the heist.

“Alarms and movement sensors have never been part of our security system,” Cosomano said, contradicting earlier police reports that said the alarms failed to go off. “Obviously we will now have to rethink our entire security system.”

The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper says the museum’s collection is worth more than $1 billion. But Cosomano said the value of the collection is subjective and one reason it is uninsured. “The value of the two paintings, like all the others in our collection, is incalculable and as such impossible to insure,” he said.

Picasso painted “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch” in 1904 during his Blue Period and it is among the most valuable pieces in the museum’s collection. Jones Bergamin, a Sao Paulo gallery director, estimated the painting’s price at about $50 million.

Portinari’s work, which depicts a coffee picker, was painted in 1939 and is one of the most renowned works by one of Brazil’s most famous painters. Bergamin estimated the painting was worth at least $5 million.

Police, who believe the thieves were paid by a wealthy art lover adding to a private collection, have not commented on the progress made in the investigation.

Adriano Monetta, a spokesman of the Sao Paulo State Public safety department Saturday said that police “are keeping mum as to suspects and clues so as not to jeopardize the investigation.”

Cosomano said that Jorge Yunes, a wealthy Sao Paulo businessman and art collector, has offered a $55,900 reward for anyone who finds and returns the two paintings.

Art thieves hit Brazil last year, when a gang of five men used a carnival street parade to cover the theft of four paintings by Dali, Picasso, Monet and Cezanne from a Rio de Janeiro art museum. Those works, valued at around $40 million, have never been recovered.

In a later bulletin a spokesman for Museum authorities said they will delay its scheduled reopening, originally set for Wednesday Dec. 26. “We are going to delay the reopening because we are still studying new security measures,” Cosomano said on Monday, without elaborating.

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