The Pretoria Art Museum was robbed on Sunday of artworks valued at more than R15 million.
Three men apparently entered the establishment in Arcadia posing as art lovers before attacking one of the employees.
Police spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Katlego Mogale, said the suspects each paid the entrance fee of R10 to get inside.
“Once inside, they pointed a firearm at the person at the counter and [demanded] paintings with an estimated value of R15m.
“They took the artworks and fled in a silver Toyota Avante,” she said.
It is believed three armed men had a list of which portraits they wanted. The men apparently entered the art museum first to check if there were other visitors before they pounced.
The museum’s Daywood Khans told Eye Witness News (EWN) that he was assaulted, adding that the men seemed well organised.
“They pulled out a list and said they were looking for so-and-so painting which is [among] our old masterpieces.
“They left one of the paintings behind when it did not fit into their getaway car,” Khans told the radio station.
The member of the mayoral committee responsible for sports and recreational service, Nozipho Tyobeka-Makeke, on Sunday told the Pretoria News that some of the paintings belonged to the Tshwane Metro Council.
She said she could not give further details regarding the robbery as she was not at the scene. She said her department had been co-operating with the police.
“We managed to give police the painting codes and they have also been circulated to customs, so that if anyone tries to get them out of the country they will be detected,” she said.
Tyobeka-Makeke said they had not thought that anyone could pull off such a brazen robbery at the museum as security guards and police frequently patrol the area. “We did not expect such a thing to happen.
“We will be releasing a statement as soon as we have spoken to police,” she said. No arrests have been made and police are investigating.
The robbery at the Pretoria Art Museum comes just a few weeks after a museum in Rotterdam was hit in what was described as one of the biggest art heists.
Seven paintings worth hundreds of millions, including works by Picasso and Monet, were stolen from the Kunsthal Museum on October 16 after thieves broke in.
The gang bypassed the sophisticated alarm system in what police say was a well-planned robbery. Chris Marinello, director of the Art Loss Register, which tracks stolen artworks, said the smooth nature of the theft suggested the gang must have had inside information.
The works were on public display for the first time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the museum’s opening.
They were owned by the Triton Foundation, a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan.
Last year, rare and historic East-Asian porcelain artifacts worth R500 000 were stolen from the Akademie vir Wetenskap and Kuns (Academy of Science and Art) in Pretoria. The suspects gained entry through the roof and destroyed part of the historic building.
At the time, it was believed that the theft was part of a larger syndicate targeting porcelain art works.