Picasso, Monets stolen in Dutch heist

Picasso, Monets stolen in Dutch heist
A man pauses to look at the empty space where Henri Matisse' painting "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" was hanging, right, next to a painting by Maurice Denis, left, at Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
AMSTERDAM (AP) - Thieves broke into a Rotterdam museum on Tuesday and walked off with works from the likes of Picasso, Monet, Gauguin and Matisse potentially worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Police haven't said how they pulled it off, but an expert who tracks stolen art said the robbers clearly knew what they were after.

"Those thieves got one hell of a haul," said Chris Marinello, who directs the Art Loss Register.

The heist at the Kunsthal museum is one of the largest in years in the Netherlands, and is a stunning blow for the private Triton Foundation collection, which was being exhibited publicly as a group for the first time.

The collection was on display as part of celebrations surrounding the museum's 20th anniversary.

Police spokeswoman Willemieke Romijn said investigators were reviewing videotapes of the theft, which took place around 3 a.m. local time, and calling for any witnesses to come forward.

The Art Loss Register's Marinello said the items taken could be worth "hundreds of millions of euros" if sold legally at auction. However, he said that was now impossible, as the paintings have already been registered internationally as stolen.

The stolen paintings were Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head"; Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London"; Henri Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow"; Paul Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window"; Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait," around 1890, and Lucian Freud's 2002 work "Woman with Eyes Closed."

Marinello said the thieves have limited options available, such as blackmailing the owners, the museum or the insurers. They could conceivably sell the paintings in the criminal market too, though any sale would likely be a small fraction of their potential auction value.

The Triton Foundation is a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman, and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan.

The Kunsthal museum is a display space that has no permanent collection of its own - the name means "art gallery" in Dutch.

The Cordia family collection includes works by more than 150 famed artists. Others whose work was on show include Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas and Andy Warhol.

Curators of the Cordia family collection aim to have the works on display for the public, and pieces have been shown in the past.

The museum is closed Tuesday as the police continue with their investigation.