The stolen Picasso in the cinematic robbery of the National Gallery
It happened one winter night in Athens. And when the sun rose over Mount Hymettus, a painting worth millions of euros had fluttered its wings. (Or rather three, as we will see below…). We should forget for a moment the alalum with the painting that από fell from the hands of the police, skip the opening of the new National Gallery that we lived on the 200th anniversary of the revolution of '21.
The diary wrote January 9, when this mysterious robbery took place, worthy of the cinematic Big Rififi. The police gave all the details of the surgical moves made by the perpetrator to enter, but also to leave as the owner of the seventh building of the National Gallery. Specifically: the burglar entered at 04.30 in the morning and left at 04.37, with three works of art in his hands. He tried to get a fourth painting, but his work fell through. It did not take him more than seven minutes to thresh in the temple of art at 50 Vassileos Konstantinou Avenue, after first breaking an aluminum door outside and entering the exhibition area like a feline.
His booty was an invaluable Picasso (the "Female Head"), a painting by the Dutchman Pete Montrian (also extremely valuable) and a drawing by William Catsia (or Moncalvo). And the alarm?
As of Sunday night, 9 hours before the robbery, the perpetrator started playing cat with the mouse with the guard. He repeatedly activated the outdoor alarm to make it appear to be blocking. After this was done 4-5 times, the guard was forced to turn him off. So, just before 5 in the morning, when everything around was silent, the robber entered the building without hearing the slightest thing. Suddenly, the guard saw the motion detector activated. He immediately ran to the spot, located the perpetrator, and chased him. It was then that the robber was forced to abandon another painting by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, which fell on him as he ran away with the rest of the booty.
Police spoke of a tall, thin man wearing a hat. No other evidence, however, was found to lead to his identification, until the revelations of June 2021.
A veil of mystery has covered the case from the beginning and continues to raise questions. Such was the operational readiness of the perpetrator that it seemed unlikely that we were dealing with a simple robber, such as the oil painter who was eventually arrested.
The fact that the Greek police, the antiquities department, and even secret agents were involved in the investigation of the case, proved that this theft was of Hollywood standards but also of national importance.
Then a lot was said, and even more was implied. Many spoke of an international spiral of thieves involving Greeks, Albanians, Romanians and Serbs.
As for the fate of the paintings, a lot was also probable, although nothing was proven. Some imagined falling into the hands of art drug dealers somewhere in the depths of Colombia. Others weaved scripts with wealthy collectors somewhere in Asia. It was also rumoured that the paintings ended up in the offices of a large law firm based in Germany, which then tried to sell them for a hefty fee in a secret auction.
Eventually, just as the "super agents" of November 17 turned out to be people next door, refuting decades-old James Bond scenarios, so in the case of the stolen Picasso, reality seems to have been much pettier than the mysterious interpretations: A common robber had them two other paintings he found, hidden for years, in a crypt in Keratea.
Picasso and Montrian paintings have now returned to the renewed National Gallery, and we can all admire them again. Let's celebrate, drinking an Athenian Spritz to Pablo!