LONDON (AFP) — A thief made what police said was an "audacious" attempt to steal two Rembrandt paintings from a London museum but fled without them after being confronted, authorities said Thursday.
The suspect broke into Dulwich Picture Gallery at about 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, police said, targeting "Rembrandt's Light," a new exhibition showing 35 of the Dutch master's paintings, etchings and drawings.
A gallery spokeswoman declined to identify the two paintings which were briefly taken.
But she told AFP that Rembrandt's portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III — dubbed the "takeaway Rembrandt" as it has been stolen four times from the gallery — was not involved.
"An intruder appears to have forced entry to the gallery and removed the two paintings," the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
An alarm was triggered and officers arrived within minutes. They challenged the suspect and one of them gave chase, only to be sprayed in the face by an unknown substance.
The officer had no serious injuries but the suspect got away. Both paintings were swiftly recovered, and never left the gallery's grounds, police said.
"This was an audacious attempted burglary and was clearly planned in advance," said Detective Inspector Jason Barber from the Flying Squad, the police unit which deals with robberies.
The "takeaway Rembrandt" was first stolen in 1966 as part of a bigger heist involving eight Old Masters, which were all eventually recovered.
In 1973, a visitor stuffed it into a plastic bag and made off on his bicycle, although he was arrested within minutes by local police, according to the book "Stealing Rembrandts.”
In 1981, two thieves walked in — again in broad daylight — and distracted the security guard while taking the pocket-sized treasure off the wall.
They attempted to blackmail the gallery with the painting but were caught a fortnight later.
Despite a new security system, the Rembrandt was stolen again in 1983, when the robbers broke in at night through a skylight. They triggered the alarm but police were too late.
It was not recovered for three years, when investigators acting on a tip found it in a box in a railway station in a British army base in West Germany.
No arrests were ever made.
© Agence France-Presse
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