A pair of paintings valued at more than £3,000,000 are stolen by an armed gang from Russborough House in County Wicklow on June 26, 2001. The stolen paintings are Thomas Gainsborough‘s Madame Baccelli, the more valuable of the pair, and Bernardo Belotto‘s Scene of Florence.
Three masked men burst their way into the house after ramming the front door with a Mitsubishi at midday. After grabbing the paintings the men set fire to their getaway vehicle and attempt to hijack a car at gunpoint but its driver refuses to give it up. They are last seen running from the scene.
Chief Superintendent Sean Feely says that there were people in the house at the time of the robbery but no one was hurt. He adds that, because they are so well known, the paintings will be near impossible to sell. Raymond Keaveney, the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, describes the theft as “an outrage.”
The robbery is a case of history repeating itself for Russborough House, twenty miles from Dublin, which has been the scene of two previous major art thefts.
In 1974, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang which includes Dr. Rose Dugdale, the British heiress, steal 19 paintings, valued at IR£8 million, from Russborough House which, at the time, is the home of the late Sir Alfred Beit, a member of the De Beers diamond family, and his wife. The couple are bound and gagged during the raid. The paintings are later found in County Cork. Dugdale and the others involved are ultimately jailed.
In 1986, a 13-strong gang headed by Martin Cahill, the Dublin crime chief who is later shot dead by the IRA, steals 18 works including some of those taken and recovered in the earlier raid. The paintings taken on this occasion include those by Johannes Vermeer, Gabriël Metsu, Francisco Goya, Thomas Gainsborough and Peter Paul Rubens. All but three of the paintings are recovered over a period of years at a number of locations, including London, Belgium, Holland and Turkey, after apparent unsuccessful attempts to sell them. The Gainsborough painting stolen on June 26 was also taken in the 1986 raid.
The Beit collection is made over to the Irish nation and many of the works are still on display at Russborough House.
(Pictured: The Mitsubishi used to ram the entrance of Russborough House sits near the front steps. The thieves torch this car before fleeing in another car. Note the gas can to the right of the car.)