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Swiss police say found 2 stolen Zurich artworks

Swiss police have found two of the four oil paintings by 19th Century masters, which were stolen from a Zurich museum earlier this month in one of Europe's biggest art thefts, they said on Tuesday.

Buehrle collection director Lukas Gloor (L) and police spokesman Marco Cortesi hold a news conference in Zurich February 19, 2008. Swiss police have found two of the four oil paintings by 19th Century masters, which were stolen from a Zurich museum earlier this month, they said on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)

The two paintings, by van Gogh and Monet, were found on Monday in a car parked outside a Zurich psychiatric hospital, police said and have an estimated value of 70 million Swiss francs ($64 million).

Police were notified about the paintings by an employee of the hospital on Monday afternoon who told them there was a suspicious white vehicle in the car park in front of the clinic and there were two pictures sitting on the back seat, the police said in a statement.

Police did not comment on the possible identity of the robbers as investigations were continuing and also said that they were not aware that a ransom had been paid.

Claude Monet's Poppies Near Vetheuil from 1880 and Vincent van Gogh's Blossoming Chestnut Branches from 1890 were found in good condition and were displayed at a news conference in Zurich on Tuesday in their original frames.

"The severe wound which was inflicted on our house on Feb. 10 has been closed somewhat," said Lukas Gloor, curator of the collection at the museum.

Masked robbers stole the two pictures as well as Cezanne's The Boy in the Red Vest from 1890 and Degas' Viscount Lepic and His Daughters from 1871, worth a total of $164 million, from the private Buehrle Collection, in the second dramatic art theft in the area within days.

Three men in dark clothing and masks forced their way into the museum last week and made off with the paintings in a white car, police said.

That robbery followed the theft of two Picasso paintings -- Tete de Cheval, from 1962, and Verre et Pichet, from 1944 -- from a nearby cultural centre.

Police had said a white vehicle may also have played a role in that incident and they would investigate whether the two thefts were connected.

The Buehrle Collection, housed near Zurich's wealthy Gold Coast lakeside district, was assembled by Swiss industrialist Emil Buehrle who sold anti-aircraft guns to Nazi Germany in World War Two.

The foundation houses an important assembly of French impressionist and post-impressionist works, which Buehrle collected between 1951 and his death in 1956.

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