The little René Magritte Museum in the Brussels suburb of Jette was robbed at gunpoint this morning by two men who ran off with Olympia, a 1948 portrait of Magritte’s wife Georgette in the nude with a conch shell on her belly. (It was originally a toad, but Magritte had second thoughts and painted it over.)
According to the British daily The Guardian:
The heist took place just after 10am this morning. The museum had been open for 10 minutes when a man rang the doorbell asking if visiting hours had started.
He put a revolver to the museum attendant’s temple and allowed his accomplice inside. According to Belgian media, the two men, who were not masked, rounded up the museum staff and visitors – a Japanese couple – and made them kneel down in the back courtyard.
The two men then left the building on foot carrying the painting, before getting into a car.
The museum, which is located in a house where the Magrittes lived from 1930 to 1954, is open by appointment only. I’m guessing the thieves didn’t have one. Olympia was one of its chief possessions. (A much larger Magritte Museum, one holding almost 200 works, opened in Brussels this summer.) The Art Loss Register estimates the value of the paining at $1.1 million, though it’s effective value right now is zero, because stolen paintings by famous names are almost impossible to sell, as the thieves will soon discover.