Czech artist Emil Filla, painting one of his most recognized cubist works
Some 130 police were involved in an operation over the weekend during which the suspected thieves of five oil paintings by the Czech cubist painter Emil Filla were arrested. Alica Štefančíková, the curator of the exhibition in Peruc where they went missing, says the four works retrieved — the thieves managed to sell one — are in remarkably good condition despite having being cut from their frames.
The suspects were arrested in the Hradec Králové and Liberec regions. Two are suspected of stealing the works from the Peruc chateau, about 50 kilometers northwest of Prague, and the other four in custody are suspected of attempting to sell the paintings.
“Immediately after the theft, we identified potential suspects who were previously implicated in similar crimes … seven men and one woman were detained in the wide-reaching operation. Two of them have been identified as witnesses and six are suspects,” police spokeswoman Helena Pšeničková said in written a statement on Monday, adding that the thieves had sold one picture for Kč 250,000. She said the suspects offered all the stolen paintings on the black market well below their value.
Peruc curator Alica Štefančíková told the ČTK news agency the painting would now be put in quarantine, “where they’ll be in their own room for a period. We will then clean them and an expert restorer will inspect them.”
The administration of the Ústi region will decide whether or not the pictures will be returned to Peruc for display. The chateau belongs to a private owner and the pictures were not insured, reportedly because the premium would be prohibitively expensive. All other valuable exhibits were removed from the chateau following the theft on Nov. 18.
Several days after the theft the frames of the picture were found damaged. The four paintings retrieved are Blind Man (1926), Still Life with a Clarinet and Fruit Basket (1946), Still Life with Bowls of Fruit (1946), and Woman with Cards (presumably from 1946). The five works stolen are estimated to be worth a total of around Kč 50 million and Kč 80 million.