Curators remove Vincent van Gogh's famous "Sunflowers"… (Cris Toala Olivares / AP )
This post has been updated. See below for details.
In an undertaking that seemed tailor-made for a complicated heist film, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam began taking down its collection of masterpieces Sunday night and prepared to transfer them to the Hermitage in Amsterdam.
While the image of 75 Van Gogh paintings including "Sunflowers" and "Irises" crossing the city in an armored car could make an art thief's heart go pitter-pat, museum director Axel Ruger downplayed the effort as the museum prepares to close until April of next year for renovations.
"We do this all the time," Ruger told the Associated Press, though he added that he couldn't say more about the security measures in place, "because you will understand that we need to keep those confidential in order to safeguard the security of the transport," he said.
Among the deterrants Ruger could describe were the careful packaging of each work in hard carrying cases, and the use of code numbers to label the case's contents, rather than the theoretically more tempting names of the works. The cases were then to be loaded into a van and delivered with a police escort on routes that were kept secret for as long as possible.
The itinerant paintings will be available for viewing at the Hermitage starting Saturday and will remain until mid-April.
With approximately 1.6 million visitors in 2011, the Van Gogh Museum is Amsterdam's most popular museum, and its closure coincides with the recent and long-delayed reopening of the city's Stedelijk Museum next door, which features works by a variety of contemporary artists.
Updated, 9:15 a.m. PST: An earlier version of this post mistakenly indicated the Van Gogh works were moving to the Hermitage in Russia. They are moving to the Hermitage in Amsterdam.
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