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Van Gogh, Picasso paintings found

Van Gogh's
Van Gogh painted "The Fortification of Paris" in 1878

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Police said Monday they had recovered three paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso and Gauguin -- valued at 1 million ($1.6 million) -- that were stolen from an art gallery in Manchester.

Acting on an anonymous tip, police said they found the watercolors behind a public toilet near Whitworth Art Gallery, where they were stolen during the weekend.

Officers received a telephone call at about 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) from an unidentified person who said the paintings were in a tube container.

The paintings were recovered and returned to the gallery, where they are being assessed for damage caused by heavy rain Sunday night.

The retrieved pieces were Vincent van Gogh's "The Fortification of Paris" (1878), Pablo Picasso's "Poverty" (1903) and Paul Gauguin's "Tahitian Landscape" (1891-93).

The Van Gogh watercolor is believed to have received the most water damage, Manchester police said.

A note was attached to the tube containing the watercolors but police would not comment on its content.

"This was a well planned theft," Manchester police said in a statement.

Police said the paintings could have been taken any time after 9 p.m. Saturday. The alarm was not raised until noon Sunday when staff returned to open the gallery to the public for the afternoon, according to the UK Press Association.

Some experts believe the paintings may have been stolen for the black market.

But Andrew Graham-Dixon, presenter of the BBC series "Renaissance," says they could have been taken by "naive thieves" hoping to sell the paintings.

The Whitworth, owned and run by Manchester University and founded in 1889, is one of Manchester's leading galleries. It is renowned for the largest collection of textiles and wallpaper outside London.

It has 40,000 works of art including several other paintings by Picasso and Van Gogh's "Hayricks" drawing.

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