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Painting Stolen from Russian Museum

March 22, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) _ A 19th-century French painting was sliced out of its frame and stolen Thursday from St. Petersburg’s bustling Hermitage Museum, officials said.

The painting, ``Pool in a Harem″ by Jean-Leon Jerome, was insured for $1 million in 1995. It was stolen between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. from an exhibit hall that was closed to visitors, the museum’s news service said.

The renowned museum was closed upon discovery of the painting’s disappearance, and visitors were initially prohibited from leaving. The theft occurred on the third floor of the green-and-white Winter Palace that houses the museum.

Investigators with police dogs searched visitors before letting them go in small groups. The operation took hours and was continuing late into the evening.

``My friends and I are only in town for one day and we were trapped in there since four o’clock,″ said Dina Maltseva, a high school student from the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg.

The picture and its frame were not connected to the museum’s alarm system, said Igor Puchek, an electrician who has worked at the Hermitage for the past 12 years.

``The theft was probably carried out by someone familiar with alarm network systems or they would have had to have known that the painting was not hooked up to an alarm,″ he said.

Police would not give any details about the investigation.

The work was painted in 1876 and was purchased by Czar Alexander III. It depicts nude and half-nude women around a pool in a lush, ornate setting.

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