Renoir painting stolen from Austrian auction house

A file photo of the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna where a Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting was stolen.
A file photo of the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna where a Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting was stolen.PHOTO: REUTERS

VIENNA (NYTimes) - At 5.15pm on Monday (Nov 26), three men - one carrying a bag from a shoe shop - walked into the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna and went to the second floor.

There, they walked up to Golfe, mer, falaises vertes - an 1895 painting of green cliffs and the sea by Pierre-Auguste Renoir that was to be auctioned on Wednesday (Nov 28) for an estimated US$131,000 (S$180,000) to US$181,000.

Then they took it out of its frame and walked out.

The robbery lasted just minutes. The men made no effort to hide their appearance.

Vienna police were investigating, said Inspector Patrick Maierhofer. "It was very quick," he added. "Nobody noticed."

Such blatant robberies from auction houses are rare, said Mr James Roundell, director of impressionist and modern art at Dickinson, a London art dealer.

In 1984, robbers armed with shotguns stole jewellery worth more than US$1 million from Christie's, but that was the only similar event that came to mind, he added.

"People pocket things from auction houses," he said. "With a print sale, someone can slip one into their catalogue. But paintings, I haven't really come across it.

"I can't imagine auction houses would be too keen to publicise it."