Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chácara do Céu: Art Heist in Rio

Brazilian Dancers

A brazen armed robbery of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Dali marked the opening of the Carnival in Brazil on Friday. Gunmen burst into the Chácara do Céu museum in Rio de Janeiro and made off with their most valuable paintings and a book by Picasso.

Sources in Brazil say that the stolen paintings were Pablo Picasso's "The Dance", Claude Monet's "Marine", Henri Matisse's "Garden of Luxembourg" and Salvador Dali's "Two Balconies". Museum director Vera de Alencar told reporters that at least four men brandishing firearms had been involved in the heist - including one holding a hand grenade.

Art lovers inside the museum were also relieved of their wallets, cameras and cellphones during the robbery. The assailants rushed out of the museum into the cobblestone streets of the Santa Teresa district and disappeared into a crowd following a Samba parade.

With its steep, almost precariously tilted streets, cable car line, and bohemian atmosphere - Rio's neighborhood of Santa Teresa is almost a Carioca version of San Francisco. With a post modern mix of gabled Victorians, modernist dwellings, alpine-style chalets, and distant views of the slums (favelas) on the hills beyond, Santa Teresa is a richly creative district.

The Chácara do Céu - a collection of mostly modern works was donated -along with the hilltop house that houses it - by one of Rio's greatest arts patrons, Raymundo de Castro Maya. Included are originals by 20th-century masters Picasso, Braque, Dalí, Degas, Matisse, Modigliani, and Monet.

Salvador Dali
"Two Balconies"
Chácara do Céu Collection, Rio de Janeiro

The museum director said the robbers knew exactly what they were taking.

"Dali's picture, for example, is the only one by him on public exhibition in Latin America."

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