Two priceless Rembrandt paintings were dumped in a London park by a fleeing robber after officers thwarted an attempted heist of the artwork from the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
After they responded to an alarm at the suburban gallery just before midnight on Wednesday, officers found that the building had been broken into and two paintings were missing. During a search of the premises, the intruder was spotted but managed to escape after spraying an officer in the face with an unknown substance.
Dulwich houses 35 paintings by the 17th century Dutch artist, including famous pieces Girl at a Window and A Woman in Bed, in the Rembrandt's Light exhibition.
While the works were subsequently recovered after the suspect dumped his loot to make his escape, police have launched a manhunt for the perpetrator.
Jason Barber, a detective inspector from London Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad, said: “This was an audacious attempted burglary and was clearly planned in advance.
“Two paintings in the exhibition were targeted and it was only down to the prompt response of gallery security staff and the courage and swift intervention of officers that these two works of art were not stolen. Thankfully both the paintings were quickly recovered and secured.
“Our inquiries now centre on finding whoever was responsible for this crime and I would ask anyone with information to call police.”
In a statement, the gallery said that the intruders were detected by its “robust security systems” before thanking security staff for their “immediate intervention” and the “swift response” from the Metropolitan police.
“The exhibition and gallery will remain closed until further notice, to allow the police to conduct a full investigation into the incident,” the statement added.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery, which was established in 1817 and is the oldest public gallery in England, said its senior curatorial staff were working with its advisers to assess whether there was any on the two paintings from the attempted robbery.
The Rembrandt's Light exhibition, which began at the beginning of October, is scheduled to run until February 2020.