No matter, she said, that the works — seven in all — were signed by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan. Her son had just been arrested on suspicion of orchestrating the art robbery of the century: stealing masterpieces in a brazen October-night theft  from the Kunsthal  museum in Rotterdam.
But if the paintings and drawings no longer existed, Radu Dogaru, her son, could be free from prosecution, she reasoned. So Mrs. Dogaru told the police that on a freezing night in February, she placed all seven works — which included Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London”; Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; and Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head” — in a wood-burning stove used to heat saunas and incinerated them.
Mrs. Dogaru’s confession could be pure invention, and the works could be discovered hidden away somewhere. But this week, after examining ashes from her oven, forensic scientists at Romania’s National History Museum appeared on the verge of confirming the art world’s worst fears: her tale may be true.
In total, the works were valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, but for curators and art lovers, their loss would be irreplaceable.
“Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling that a huge and horrible crime happened, and the masterpieces were destroyed,” Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, the director of the National History Museum, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. If so, he added, it would be “a barbarian crime against humanity.”
How Picassos, Matisses, Monets and other precious masterpieces may have met a fiery fate in a remote Romanian village, population 3,400, is something the police are still trying to understand. The theft has turned into a compelling and convoluted mystery that underscores the intrigues of the international criminal networks lured by high-priced art and the enormous difficulties involved in storing, selling or otherwise disposing of well-known works after they have been stolen.
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