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NICE, France -- A spate of fine art losses in Europe is continuing this year with the recent armed robbery of two Impressionist paintings in the south of France.

As with earlier European art thefts this year, the latest stolen pieces are not believed to be insured in the commercial insurance market, according to James Emson, managing director of the London-based Art Loss Register.

The ALR is an international database of stolen artworks backed by Aon Corp. and several fine arts underwriters and auction houses.

Mr. Emson said the ALR has entered the two stolen paintings -- Claude Monet's "Cliffs at Dieppe" and Alfred Sisley's "Poplars Lane" -- into its database but has not been notified of any insurance arrangements covering the works.

He said he believes commercial insurance coverage is unlikely as the paintings were owned and displayed in government-run museums. Most government museums in Europe self-insure their art collections rather than purchase commercial insurance.

The Monet and Sisley paintings may have been on loan from the French government to the Musee des Beaux Arts, a municipal government museum in the Riviera capital of Nice. However, no spokespeople for the Musee des Beaux Arts or the French government were available for comment.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20, two masked gunmen broke into the house of Jean Fortis, director of the Musee des Beaux Arts. The gunmen forced Mr. Fortis to drive them to the museum, where they overpowered two staff members preparing to open the museum for the day.

Mr. Emson said the two paintings are invaluable and it will be impossible for the thieves to sell them in the open art market. He said such thefts often end in a ransom demand.

The Nice theft, plus the two earlier art thefts, should highlight museum security issues in Europe, according to Mr. Emson.

However, he noted that violent art theft will always be difficult to prevent.

In May, three Impressionist paintings -- two by Vincent Van Gogh and one by Paul Cezanne -- were stolen by armed thieves from Rome's National Gallery of Modern Art but were later recovered (BI, June 1; July 13).

This followed the non-armed theft of a painting by French artist Camille Corot from the Louvre in Paris (BI, May 11).