Five paintings stolen from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris feared destroyed

Nature Mort au Chandelier, Fernand Léger, 1922

The Associated Press reported this week that five important works stolen from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 2010 may have been destroyed. This work by Léger was apparently stolen to order, and in his zeal to capitalize on his time in the museum, the thief managed to make life considerably more difficult for his alleged co-conspirators because he stole some more very notorious works which only served to attract more attention from the authorities.

At a trial in Paris, one of the defendants, Yonathan Birn, claimed to have destroyed the works after fears that the investigation into their disappearance would lead to him.

Tomic was there to steal a painting by Fernand Léger and possibly a Modigliani ordered by a third defendant, 61-year-old antiques dealer Jean-Michel Corvez, who confessed to being a receiver of stolen goods. Tomic said that when he came across the Picasso, the Matisse and the Braque paintings, he decided to take them as well.

Several hours after the burglary, Tomic said, he offered the five paintings to Corvez, who said he was “totally stunned” by them.

Corvez said he initially gave Tomic a plastic bag containing €40,000 (£34,000) in small denominations just for the Léger because he was unsure he would get buyers for the other paintings.

Corvez became worried about keeping the artworks in his shop after several months and showed them to his friend Birn, a 40-year-old expert and dealer in luxury watches. Birn said he agreed to buy the Modigliani for €80,000 ($68,000) and to store the others in his studio. The Modigliani was hidden in a bank safe, he said.

Birn said he panicked when police began investigating and, in May 2011, he retrieved the Modigliani from the safe, returned to his workshop and broke the stretcher bars on all the canvasses before throwing them all into the building’s trash.

  1. Associated Press, I Threw Away $100m of Picasso and Matisse Art, Says Dealer in Paris Theft Trial, The Guardian, Jan. 30, 2017.

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