Police aren't speculating on the motive behind the theft of two valuable Gottfried Lindauer paintings in a ram-raid but say they have strong lines of inquiry.
They have finished an examination of the International Art Centre in Parnell where the paintings were on display in the gallery ahead of an auction next week.
The theft occurred about 3.30am on Saturday, it was a ram-raid and it happened quite quickly, says Inspector Matt Srhoj.
The oil paintings, Lindauer's "Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure" and "Chief Ngatai-Raure", were due to go on auction at the private gallery on April 4 and are valued at between $350,000 and $450,000 each. They were painted in 1884.
Interpol has been informed but Insp Srhoj didn't address questions about whether the paintings might have been stolen to order, saying it was too early to speculate on motive or where the art works might end up.
Police have the car driven through the gallery window, which was stolen from nearby.
They don't have a second getaway car and aren't saying much about it.
Insp Srhoj would not be drawn on questions about security at the gallery.
It obviously took a certain amount of planning and more than one person was involved.
"Obviously we are hoping to recover the paintings," he said.
The process of putting out a border alert was under way, he said.
Police are appealing for witnesses and public information.
The break-in left large amounts of glass strewn across the footpath on up-market Parnell's busy main street.
International Art Centre director Richard Thomson told NZ Newswire it was "absolute madness" anyone would steal such high-profile art in New Zealand, given it would be nearly impossible to sell.
"You can't do anything with it. It's a high crime for no return," he said.
The gallery would still be going ahead with its auction next week and had received a large amount of support from the public since the theft, he said.
Art crime historian Penelope Jackson agreed the thieves would struggle to get rid of the paintings, telling Fairfax Media any buyer would be foolish to pick up "hot art".
Auckland Art Gallery held a major exhibition of Lindauer's works earlier this year and director Rhana Devenport described them as "national treasures".
Born in then-Bohemia in 1839 and trained in Vienna, Lindauer moved to New Zealand in 1874, establishing a reputation through his prolific output of portraits of Maori.
The stolen paintings are described as "emblematic" of Lindauer's style and are companion pieces believed to depict two members of the Ngatai family of Tauranga, including Ngati He hapu, of Ngai Te Rangi, leader Hori Ngatai.
The theft is not the first high-profile art heist in New Zealand.
In 1997, Tuhoe activists Tame Iti and Te Kaha took Colin McCahon's Urewera Mural - worth about $2 million - from the Department of Conservation's Lake Waikaremoana visitor centre, handing it back 15 months later after a negotiation.
In 1998, Ricardo Sannd stole a Tissot painting during a robbery at Auckland Art Gallery and was arrested with the artwork a week later.
– With NZN