We recently brought you details recently of an ongoing court case in the south of France concerning the theft of a Claude Monet oil painting. At the trial in city of Aix-en-Provence, seven defendants stood trial, accused of a 2007 theft from the Museé des Beaux-Arts in Nice. Along with Monet’s Cliffs Near Dieppe, which had been stolen from the Museé des Beaux-Arts previously in 1998, the gang made off with stole two Breughels oil paintings, Allegory Of Earth and Allegory Of Water, as well as an Alfred Sisley canvas, Avenue Of Poplars At Moret, (that was being stolen for the third time from the Nice museum). They had tried to make off with a second Sisley painting but had dropped it as they were making their getaway, breaking the frame but leaving the canvas unharmed.

Monet painted Cliffs Near Dieppe in 1897 in Normandy in northern France, as part of a series of works that focused on the coastline in the area. Although it (and Sisley’s Avenue Of Poplars At Moret) was first stolen from the Museé des Beaux-Arts in 1998, the canvas was later recovered from a yacht moored in the nearby port of Saint Laurent du Var. The story that initially emerged was that on September 21st of that year, art thieves broke into the home of the curator of the Museé des Beaux-Arts, Jean Foneris, and forced him to drive them to the museum and to let them into the premises. Foneris was then bound and gagged, along with the museum’s security guards, and locked in a storage closet, while the thieves made off with the Monet painting as well as Foneris’ car.

It later came to light that Foneris, had not only being complicit in the theft, but had actually masterminding the whole operation, and he eventually served 18 months of a five year sentence before being released. The 2007 theft was equally dramatic with armed robbers wearing ski masks and blue overalls, brandishing Colt 45 pistols and hand grenades, holding museum staff at gunpoint while they removed the four canvases. They escaped with artworks with an estimated combined value of €22 million ($29 million), but Cliffs Near Dieppe and the other paintings were eventually recovered undamaged in June 2008 from a vehicle in Marseille.

When we first commented on the ongoing trial, we mentioned that as part of the gang’s defence, they were claiming that an undercover FBI agent had in fact ‘placed an order’ with one of their contacts during an undercover sting operation in Miami in 2006, as part of an attempt to recover other stolen work, and that the 2007 theft was a direct result of this ‘order’. Assistant Public Prosecutor Marc Gouton saw things differently saying, “At no moment had anyone held their hand when it came to preparing and committing the hold-up and negotiating the sale of the paintings.”

The judge clearly agreed with him and the gang have been handed sentences of between two and nine year for ‘armed robbery’ and ‘reception of stolen goods by a gang’, and were ordered to pay damages of €20,000 ($27,000) to the City of Nice. Cliffs Near Dieppe is back on the walls of Nice’s Museé des Beaux-Arts, and all being well, hopefully this time it will stay there.