When the Pretoria Art Museum opens for business next week visitors will not be able to view the four valuable pieces of art found in a Port Elizabeth cemetery.
“The Maggie Laubser, Hugo Naude, JH Pierneef and Irma Stern works are still with police as part of the investigation into the theft,” Tshwane mayoral spokesperson Pieter de Necker said.
They, along with the painting titled Street Scene by Gerard Sekoto which is valued at R7m, were literally walked out of the doors of the Schoeman Street museum last weekend in a brazen daylight robbery.
All told five pieces stolen were valued in excess of R17m.
Eastern Cape police, acting on information supplied to a Port Elizabeth canine unit member, found four of the five pieces of art, neatly wrapped in plastic but without their frames, under a bench in a private cemetery behind the coastal city’s Sunridge Park Dutch Reformed Church on Tuesday.
“While we don’t physically have the works of art back we are delighted they are in safe hands and once returned to us they will go under lock and key, along with other valuable items, until such time museum security has been fully upgraded,” De Necker said.
The theft rocked the art world, nationally and internationally, with calls coming in from art museums “all over the world, indicating they would now increase security measures”.
“In one way, sadly, our loss has been a wake-up call for other similar institutions and we hope we can all learn from each other in improving security but not to the detriment of the visitor experience.”
He said neither the council nor its insurers had been contacted with “any kind of ransom demand” for the safe return of the valuable art.
“Once the theft became public knowledge, rumours started flying. These ranged from an ‘arranged’ theft requested by an artist, through to ransom and extortion demands. While we are not party to the police investigation I am sure all these areas are being covered but I can state categorically, there was no ransom demand,” he said – 701176