A painting worth an estimated $1.3 million has "disappeared" from a wall of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in what is expected to be the biggest Australian art heist since the early 1990s.
The missing painting is the 17th century self-portrait A Cavalier, by Dutch master Frans van Mieris I, and some media reports claim at least five other paintings are missing from the gallery.
The painting was small, 20 by 16 centimetres, but it's not yet known whether the famous art work was stolen during opening hours, slipped inside a jacket or coat perhaps, or whether the heist took place after the gallery had closed to the public :
Police sources said they suspected it was an inside job. Police have spent three days interviewing gallery staff and examining security footage.
While Aboriginal art is a popular target for thieves, the theft of European works from public art institutions in Australia is rare.
UPDATE : The painting is now believed to have been stolen when the gallery was open to the public, and the thief was able to :
flee unnoticed with it after "expertly removing it from its mounting", police said today.
Police say the thief struck between 10am and 12.30pm, when the gallery would have been open to visitors.
Gallery spokeswoman Susanne Briggs said the entire work – including the timber frame – had been carefully unscrewed from the wall.