Picasso, Mondrian paintings stolen from Greek gallery

ATHENS Mon Jan 9, 2012 12:24pm EST

1 of 4. A Greek police handout photograph shows a painting by famous Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in Athens January 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Greek Police/Handout

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Three works of art, including one by Pablo Picasso and another by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, were stolen from Greece's National Gallery on Monday, police said.

Thieves broke into the gallery in the early hours and snatched Picasso's 1939 painting "Woman's head," donated to the Greeks by the artist in 1949, and Mondrian's "Mill" dated 1905, police said.

They also took a sketch by Italian painter Guglielmo Caccia, which was donated to the gallery in 1907.

"It all happened in seven minutes," said a police official who declined to be named.

To mislead the guard, the thieves activated the gallery's alarm system several times before breaking into the building at 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT). The guard turned off the alarm only to later spot one of the thieves through the motion detector.

Before escaping, the thief dropped another 1905 Mondrian painting, the "Landscape," police said.

It was not clear how many people were involved in the theft. Police were looking for suspects and the art in Greece and abroad.

In October, police in Serbia recovered two paintings by Picasso stolen in 2008 from a gallery in Switzerland and worth millions of dollars.

Greece recovered in September a painting by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens stolen from a museum in Belgium in 2001 and arrested two Greeks who tried to sell it to undercover police for about 1 million euros.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Paul Casciato)

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