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4 of 5 stolen South African paintings recovered

Four paintings stolen from a museum in Pretoria, South Africa in a daring daylight raid last weekend have been found under a bench in a cemetery.
The 1931 Irma Stern oil painting Fishing Boats was one of four paintings recovered under a bench in a cemetery after having been stolen from a Pretoria gallery on Sunday. A fifth painting is still missing. (The City of Tshwane/Associated Press)

Four paintings stolen from a museum in Pretoria, South Africa in a daring daylight raid last weekend have been found under a bench in a cemetery.

The fifth painting snatched during the heist — Gerard Sekoto’s Street Scene (1939) valued at $800,000 — was not recovered.

A tip-off led police to the cemetery in the city of Port Elizabeth, 1,100 km from Pretoria. No arrests have been made.

Thieves posed as art students and a teacher to visit the Pretoria Art Museum on Sunday. They paid for their tickets and asked a curator to show them specific paintings at the gallery before pulling out pistols.

After tying up the curator, they forced other staff to lie on the ground while they took the paintings, valued at more than $2 million.

The recovered works, all by South African artists, are:

  • Fishing Boats, a 1931 painting by world-renowned artist Irma Stern of brightly coloured sailboats by a pier.
  • Eland and Bird, a gouache drawing of an eland antelope and a bird by landscape artist J.H. Pierneef.
  • Hottentot Chief, a thick-stroked oil painting of a chief by Hugo Naude.
  • Cat and Petunias, a picture of a cat by a vase full of petunias by Maggie Laubser.

Another painting by Stern was left behind because the robbers were unable to fit it into their car.

Police say the recovered paintings are being studied to verify they are the originals. Meanwhile, the hunt continues for the missing work.

On Monday, the museum closed for the week and removed its most valuable remaining works until its security can be increased. Authorities say video surveillance cameras at the museum had stopped working on Thursday, just days before the theft.  

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