Kunsthal art heist
An empty space on a wall of the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam after the heist last year. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images

Ash from an oven owned by a woman whose son is charged with stealing seven multimillion-pound paintings, including works by Matisse, Picasso and Monet, contained paint, canvas and nails, a Romanian museum official said on Wednesday.

The discovery could be evidence that Olga Dogaru was telling the truth when she claimed to have burned the paintings, which were taken from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal gallery last year in a daylight heist.

Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, director of Romania’s National History Museum, told the Associated Press that museum forensic specialists had found small fragments of painting primer, the remains of canvas and paint, and copper and steel nails, some of which pre-dated the 20th century.

“We discovered a series of substances which are specific to paintings and pictures,” he said, including lead, zinc and azurite.

He refused to say definitively that the ashes were from the stolen paintings. He said justice officials would make that decision.

He did venture, however, that if the remains were those of the paintings, it was “a crime against humanity to destroy universal art”.

“I can’t believe in 2013 that we come across such acts,” he said.

Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said forensic specialists at the museum had been analysing ashes from the stove since March, and would hand their results to prosecutors next week.

The seven paintings were stolen in October in the biggest art heist to hit the Netherlands for more than a decade. Thieves broke in through a rear emergency exit of the gallery, grabbed the paintings off the wall and fled within two minutes.

The works would have an estimated value of tens of millions of pounds if they were sold at auction.

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The Guardian

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