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Originally published Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Thieves take Picasso portraits

Burglars slipped into the Paris apartment of Pablo Picasso's granddaughter and took two portraits of women the artist loved, slicing one...

The Associated Press

PARIS — Burglars slipped into the Paris apartment of Pablo Picasso's granddaughter and took two portraits of women the artist loved, slicing one of the paintings out of its frame.

The thieves were so quiet that the two people in the apartment of Diana Widmaier-Picasso didn't hear them, police said Wednesday. The Guardian newspaper reported that the two were Widmaier-Picasso and a friend.

The two paintings — one of Picasso's daughter Maya and the other of his second wife, Jacqueline — together are worth an estimated $66 million.

The paintings join 549 other missing or stolen works by the prolific Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist and ceramist, considered by many the leading artist of the 20th century.

According to the Web site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Picasso produced more than 20,000 works of art during his career.

Art experts said any work by Picasso is "very hard to fence because it's so well-known; stealing a Picasso is like stealing a sign that says, 'I'm a thief,' " said Jonathan Sazonoff, who runs a leading Web site on stolen art.

Katie Dugdale, of The Art Loss Register, which maintains the world's largest database on stolen, missing and looted art, said that although it's difficult, famous works of art can be sold on the black market.

"Even though they can't get full value, there's still some value unfortunately," she said, particularly if the works are used to pay for other illegal activities.

In high-profile art thefts, recovery is likely because of intense media attention and ramped-up police efforts, Dugdale said.

Burglars entered the apartment in the 7th arrondissement late Monday or early Tuesday, police and the prosecutor's office said. Police said they were examining a door lock to see if it was broken and were unsure if the alarm system had been turned on.

The thieves cut the edges of one painting, "Maya and the Doll," to take it out of its frame, a police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The painting has sentimental value for Widmaier-Picasso: It shows her mother, Maya, as a young girl in pigtails, eyes askew in an off-kilter Cubist perspective. Another version of the painting hangs in the Picasso Museum in Paris.

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Maya's mother was Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom Picasso met when she was 17 and who was his muse and lover for years. Four years after Picasso died in 1973, Walter committed suicide by hanging.

Maya Picasso married Pierre Widmaier and had three children, Olivier, Richard and Diana Widmaier-Picasso, an art historian and author of "Picasso: Art Can Only be Erotic."

The other stolen painting is "Portrait of Jacqueline," and the burglars took the frame with it, police said. The painting was one of many that depict Picasso's second wife, Jacqueline Roque, whom he married in 1961 when he was 79 and she was in her mid-30s.

The two stolen portraits are not as valuable as some other works; "Boy with a Pipe," for instance, sold at auction in 2004 for $78.7 million.

But the stolen paintings are important because the artist chose to keep them, said Pepe Karmel, an associate professor at New York University and the author of "Picasso and the Invention of Cubism."

It was unclear if the thieves also made off with drawings by Picasso. Police and the Paris prosecutor's office mentioned only the two paintings, but the director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, Anne Baldassari, said several paintings and drawings were stolen.

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