A Banksy artwork of a masked rat holding a knife was stolen in Paris. It was by no means a traditional art heist however, as the work had been stenciled on the back of a large traffic sign near the Pompidou Centre.
The gallery, which holds the largest collection of contemporary artworks in Europe, made the announcement and posted an image to its Twitter page showing a large rectangular hole in the metal sign, where the artwork had been.
— Centre Pompidou (@CentrePompidou) September 3, 2019
“We are sad to inform you that Banksy’s work of art facing our building on rue Beaubourg was stolen during the night,” the gallery announced in a tweet.
“Although this piece was not part of our collection, we were proud that the artist had chosen the side of our building to create it, as an homage to the events of May ’68.”
The events of May ’68 refer to two months of anti-capitalist riots which took place in Paris during the summer of 1968. Banksy claimed ownership of the work in June, when he posted photos of the masked rat on his Instagram. It was then officially protected against vandalism by the French authorities, using a tinted acrylic sheet.
The Pompidou Centre said that it suspects the thieves used a saw to cut the sign off, which was fitted with a plexiglass cover to prevent any foul play, causing them to simply remove the whole surface all together.
It said the museum’s security guards had already caught thieves trying to steal the work over a year ago.
The artwork is among a few other rat-themed works attributed to Banksy that appeared across Paris last summer. They were widely interpreted to be a comment on the French government’s treatment of migrants. The choice of the rat for his murals is seen as a reference to the Parisian artist Blek le Rat, often hailed as the “father of stencil graffiti,” with a legacy spanning the past three decades.
This marks the second Banksy work to be stolen in Paris this year, after a mural painted on an emergency door at the Bataclan concert venue was taken by thieves in the beginning of the year. The image was of a veiled girl huddled in the doorway, and was largely seen as a memorial to the 130 lives lost in the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.