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French Art World Upended by Thefts, Museum Turmoil

The Chorus by Degas

The Chorus by Degas

The French art world has been upended in recent weeks by daring thefts of master works and disruptions at its top museums. Workers are upset by cost cuts that they say threaten priceless artworks. Given the spate of recent robberies they may have a point.

Thieves stole as many as 30 paintings, including a Pablo Picasso, from a private villa in the south of France, police said over the weekend. One lost painting by post-impressionist Henri Rousseau was worth about $1.43 million, police said.

It was the second daring robbery in the Marseille area in a fortnight. A work by French impressionist Edgar Degas was stolen from a museum Wednesday (Dec. 2), Marseille public prosecutor Jacques Dallest told Reuters. So far, no evidence links the two thefts.

The Louvre: Hit by labor unrest

The Louvre: Hit by labor unrest

The piece, a pastel, known as “The Chorus,” was worth an estimated $1.15 million, the prosecutor said. Earlier estimates placed the value at an estimated $45 million.

Meanwhile in Paris, at museums such as the world renown Louvre, home to the Mona Lisa , workers have been enraged by job cuts and lower subisidies that they claim are putting art works in jeopardy.

“The fewer staff there are, the greater the risk that the museum opens in conditions that are unacceptable in terms of security, be it for the artworks, visitors or building,” Didier Alaime, a spokesman of the CGT union’s culture section, told Reuters.

The Louvre opened more than an hour late after workers met under its famous glass pyramid to discuss strike options.

The Musee d’Orsay, home to Edouard Manet’s “Olympia,” some of Vincent Van Gogh’s striking landscapes and rooms of Impressionist paintings, was closed for the day.

The Rodin museum and the futurist Center Pompidou, were also shut. The Center, a hotbed of union activism, has been closed for a week.

Union workers say a government proposal to fill only half the vacancies left by retirees, plus an emphasis on cost cuts and ticket sales is overshadowing operations. Many museums have already sealed rooms and display fewer artworks to cope with a lack of staff, they said.

The highly publicized art thefts haven’t helped to temper moods in the French capital.

The theft at a private villa in the Provencal village of La Cadiere d’Azur, was discovered by a caretaker. The owner was on holiday in Sweden, and the house was unoccupied.

The stolen Degas belonged to the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and had been loaned to Marseille’s Cantini museum. It was due to be returned this week.

“The disappearance of this very expensive painting was discovered when the museum opened on Thursday morning. There do not seem to be any signs of breaking and entering,” the prosecutor said.

The Musee d’Orsay has been loaning out many works in recent months to raise funds.

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