SAO PAULO, Brazil Armed with nothing more than a crow bar and a car jack, it took thieves just three minutes to steal paintings by Pablo Picasso and Candido Portinari, worth millions of dollars, from Brazil's premier modern art museum.
Authorities said they hit the Sao Paulo Museum of Art just before dawn Thursday a time when the city's busiest avenue is deserted and the guards inside were going through their shift change.
Jumping over a glass partition, they climbed an open concrete staircase leading up into the entrance of the two-story modernist building, which hovers over a large plaza on stilts of steel.
For a short time, they could have been seen from blocks away. But the thieves worked quickly. A few jabs of the crowbar, and they were able to slip a common car jack under the metal security gate. A few more cranks and they squeezed inside.
Hazy images from a security camera shows three men going in at 5:09 a.m. They smashed through two glass doors, ran to the museum's top floor and grabbed the two framed paintings from different rooms, somehow avoiding nearby guards.
The alarm never rang, and by 5:12 a.m., they were making their escape.
"It was a professional job; it was something they studied because the paintings were in different rooms," said the lead police investigator, Marcos Gomes de Moura.
Picasso painted "Portrait of Suzanne Bloch," in 1904 during his Blue Period. It is among the most valuable pieces in the collection, museum spokesman Eduardo Cosomano said.
They also took "O Lavrador de Cafe" by Portinari, a major Brazilian artist.
"The prices paid for such works would be incalculable, enough to give you vertigo," said curator Miriam Alzuri of the Bellas Artes Museum of Bilbao, Spain.
Jones Bergamin, a Sao Paulo gallery director, estimated the Picasso at about $50 million and the Portinari $5-$6 million.
"I talked to friends at Christie's and Sotheby's and made the estimate based on the last Picasso that sold, "Garcon Avec Pipe," which is from the same blue period," Bergamin said.
But Bergamin disagrees with the police theory that the thieves are professionals, since they ran past many other valuable paintings, including a very important Renoir, a Raphael, and paintings by Rembrandt and Degas.
"I think they took the Picasso because it was so small and the Portinari because it was hanging by the door," he said.
The Picasso measures 26 by 21 inches and the Portinari 40 by 32 inches, the museum said.
Police believe a fourth person may have acted as a lookout because they found headphones near the museum's entrance.