Portraits by Czech artist Gottfried Lindauer taken from Auckland gallery where they had been left on display behind glass front window
Two Lindauer paintings that are together worth nearly NZ$1m have been stolen in Auckland in a ram-raid on an auction house where they were left on display in the front window.
New Zealand police said the theft occurred at 4am on Saturday. The portraits done by Gottfried Lindauer in 1884 were taken from inside the glass window at the International Art Centre in Parnell.
The paintings, Chieftainess NgataiRaure and Chief Ngatai-Raure, were due to be auctioned in the coming weeks. Their estimated value was between NZ$350,000 to NZ$450,000 each.
Police were concerned the paintings may be smuggled out of New Zealand. They had found the vehicle used to ram the window and were searching for another.
Penelope Jackson, an expert on New Zealand art crime, said the heist was a tragedy and it would be very difficult for the thieves to sell the famous paintings in New Zealand, even on the black market.
Lindauer is very collectible and anyone who is trying to on-sell these works is going to have a real problem, she said.
The heist has been so well publicised, now anyone looking to purchase a Lindauer only needs to Google the works to come across this story.
Such heists were usually conducted by opportunists looking to make quick money but the distinctive nature of the portraits would make that very difficult.
These are powerful, full-frontal works, instantly recognisable. The thieves may have done enough research to steal them by using a car, but they may not have thoroughly researched where and how they are going to be able to sell them.
Jackson said border police and Interpol would have been alerted to keep a lookout for the stolen portraits but there was a risk they could already have suffered damage.