On Sunday evening, a man walked through a crowd of visitors at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, calmly approached a painting of a Crimean mountaintop, then lifted it off the wall and carried it out of the gallery into broad daylight.
The painting, titled “Ai-Petri. Crimea,” by Russian realist Arkhip Kuindzhi, dates from 1908 and is worth an estimated $185,000, according to the Associated Press. Unsuspecting visitors apparently mistook the thief for a gallery employee.
CCTV cameras captured the brazen heist, which took place at a temporary exhibition that had no alarms fitted. Russian authorities say they have arrested the 31-year-old suspect and recovered the undamaged artwork, which, after a tip-off to police, was found hidden at a construction site outside Moscow. In an interview with detectives, the suspect reportedly claimed he was innocent and said he could not remember where he had been on Sunday.
The incident is only the latest embarrassing lapse in security at Tretyakov Gallery, which was founded in 1856 and houses more than 1,300 works of Russian art from the 11th through the 20th century. In May, a drunken man vandalized a famous 19th-century painting of Ivan the Terrible by stabbing at it with a metal pole.
Both crimes raise questions about security at Russian museums, many of which have complained of security shortages since budget cutbacks in 2015. On Monday, Olga Golodets, a deputy prime minister who oversees cultural affairs, ordered Russia’s ministry of culture to investigate all federally-run museums for security compliance and provide employees with extra training.
Update 2/1 11:49 am: Citing unnamed sources, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reports the suspect, Crimean native Denis Chuprikov, “confessed to the theft, saying that he had decided on it spontaneously because of debts.” The Moscow Times says police believe the heist was pre-planned, and are investigating possible accomplices. Police said before the painting was found, it was posted on a popular online marketplace for 2.5 million rubles (~$37,000).