Four stolen paintings found in graveyard

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Four celebrated South African paintings stolen at gunpoint from a museum in Pretoria were found intact two days later about 600 miles away beside a “wall of remembrance” at a church cemetery, police said.

Three men posing as an art teacher and two students stole five paintings worth about £1.7 million from the Pretoria Art Museum on Sunday after asking staff to point out the works from what has been described as a “shopping list” of the museum’s most expensive art.

Brigadier Marinda Mills said a police dog-handler in the southern city of Port Elizabeth was tipped off by an informant about the paintings, which were found yesterday. No arrests have been made.

“The art pieces were left under a bench in the small cemetery where police forensic and crime scene experts are still fine-combing the area,” she said. The stolen works were: Cat and Petunias by Maggie Laubser, Hugo Naudé’s Hottentot Chief, Eland and Bird by JH Pierneef, Gerard Sekoto’s Street Scene and Fishing Boats by Irma Stern.

Street Scene, valued at about £600,000, remains missing.

The museum theft saw the robbers calmly pay for tickets and ask a curator to show them specific paintings before they pulled out pistols and forced everyone to the ground, officials said. They tied up the curator and others before collecting the paintings.

Violent crime and murders remain common in South Africa, but high-profile art thefts are not as common. In February 2011, thieves stole four small, limited-edition prints by South African artist William Kentridge from a gallery in Johannesburg. Thieves also have targeted bronze statutes in other South African museums for their scrap value.