Two high-profile art thefts in France over the Christmas holidays brought the illegal trafficking of cultural treasures to the world’s attention.

In the first, the Impressionist painter Edgar Degas’s The Choir Singers was stolen from The Cantini Museum in Marseilles. The delicate pastel, with an estimated value of €800,000, had simply been unscrewed from the gallery wall on New Year’s Eve.

In the second, occurring just days later, some 30 paintings were stolen from a private collector’s home on the French Riviera, including pieces by Henri Rousseau and Pablo Picasso. The entire haul was worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of €1 million.

These crimes are hardly isolated incidents. An auctioneer and eight agents from the well-respected Paris auction house, Drouot, were recently charged with “organized theft” after a stolen painting by Gustave Courbet was discovered in the Drouot warehouse, and hundreds of French churches and historic châteaux have been targeted by thieves for their highly prized cultural treasures.

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