Art thieves calling themselves "Australian cultural terrorists" sent a ransom note Monday claiming responsibility for the theft of a painting by Pablo Picasso and demanding increased government funding for the arts as the price for its return, police said.
The oil painting, titled "Weeping Woman" and valued at more than $1 million, disappeared from the National Gallery in the state of Victoria on Saturday. Police announced Monday that it had been stolen, after the gallery and the media received copies of letters listing the group's demands.
The "cultural terrorists" demanded that state Arts Minister Race Mathews increase funding for the arts by 10% and sponsor annual contests for local artists.
The thieves gave the state government one week to agree, threatening to destroy the painting and steal others if the ransom is not paid.
"I can't imagine that anybody who had genuinely at heart the interests either of art or of art lovers could have perpetrated an action of this sort," Mathews said.
The art gallery director, Patrick McCaughey, said the 1937 painting, which depicts a woman convulsed with grief after a fascist attack on a Basque stronghold during the Spanish Civil War, is one of the gallery's most important works.
McCaughey said he purchased it last December for the equivalent of $1.1 million.
He described the theft as urban vandalism and expressed doubt that the state government could meet the thieves' demands for a massive boost in arts funding.