Earlier today armed robbers stole this work, Olympia by Rene Magritte from an appointment-only museum just outside of Brussels today. The men rang the bell, asked if visiting hours had started, and then put a gun to the attendant and rounded up the visitors, and stole the work.
No word yet on if they were wearing bowler hats. Magritte painted the work with the man in the hat and an apple in front of his face, the Son of Man — an image which was prominently used in the Thomas Crown Affair. It seems unlikely thieves would risk punishment to re-enact a film, so why was the painting taken? There are a few oft-cited possibilities:
The first, is that a collector admires the piece, and hired a thief to take it for him. We can call this the Dr. No situation. This seems the least likely possibility, but the one that strikes a chord with the imagination. Writers in this subject frequently cite the Dr. No as being responsible for thefts, and I admit it makes for good Bond villains, but there has been no convincing evidence that thsi is why people are stealing rare objects. Another similar possibility which seems far more likely is that an unscrupulous dealer may have a similar piece for sale, and if he can establish some excitement around these kinds of pieces, the price for his similar work may go up.
Second, the thief may not have known that the object was so rare as to make its subsequent sale difficult.
Third, the thief may simply be trying to kidnap the object. They could then insure its safe return for a generous reward, or negotiate its return.
Finally, perhaps the market is doing such a poor job of regulating what is and is not legitimate, that it may not be all that difficult to sell this piece after all. This strikes me as the most troubling possibility, but also not very likely.