Robbers Steal Magritte Painting from Brussels Museum

Armed thieves stole a famous painting by René Magritte worth nearly $6 million from a small museum dedicated to his life and works yesterday, Brussels police told The Telegraph.

The nude, entitled "Olympia," was taken from the René Magritte Museum, located in the house where the Belgian surrealist artist lived for 24 years.

During the robbery, which took place minutes after the museum opened, two Japanese tourists and three curators were held at gunpoint while a second man vaulted a low glass barrier to seize the picture.

"At 10:10 this morning, someone rang the bell asking to visit. He was let inside and he pulled out a pistol and ordered the woman answering the door to let a second person in," said Johan Berckmans, a Belgian police officer. "All five people in the building were ordered to the back by the gunman and told to keep quiet. In the meantime, the other man stole the painting and they both made good their escape."

The museum is in a two-story house, away from the normal tourist trail, containing the ground floor apartment where Magritte, and his wife, lived and worked between 1930 and 1954. As well as paintings, there are about 100 personal objects and documents associated with the painter, who died aged 68 in 1967, in the museum, which can only be visited on request.

Olympia depicts the artist's wife Georgette lying naked with a shell on her stomach and measures around 24 by 32 inches. "The robbers seemed to know which picture they wanted to steal. It is likely an ordered job," Mr Berckmans said.

The theft could threaten the future of the small museum which is now rivalled by a new Magritte building in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, in central Brussels, which opened this summer.

"We celebrated our 10th anniversary in June which was very special. We have never had anything like this before and it is our most important work and was painted here," said Miss Lemmens.