MOSCOW — A man wearing a black V-neck sweater walked up to a moody painting of a mountain range on display at the renowned Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
He leaned forward as if to admire the artist’s brushwork. Then he reached up, lifted the painting off the wall, and sauntered out of the exhibition, swinging the painting from his right hand.
The work, titled “Ai Petri, Crimea” and painted by Arkhip Kuindzhi in 1908, had been insured for $182,000, according to a spokeswoman for the museum.
The painting, which was on loan from the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, was not lost for long. On Monday, a day after it was taken, police recovered it undamaged in a construction site outside Moscow and arrested a 31-year-old man, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
But the brazen theft will still embarrass the Tretyakov, the museum with the most important collection of Russian art in Moscow, especially as it comes less than a year after another man attacked a revered Russian painting with a pole — piercing it in three places — after drinking vodka in the gallery’s cafe.
Zelfira Tregulova, director general of the Tretyakov, said the incident was a result of art exhibitions attracting a rougher clientele. “We’re losing the culture of visiting, of interacting with art,” she told a news conference on Monday.
The theft “is a result and consequence of today’s incredible accessibility of museums, of vast numbers of people visiting our exhibitions,” she said. “Universal accessibility increases risks.”
Ms. Tregulova said that while some Western museums had added armed guards to exhibitions, Russia still tended to depend on grandmotherly types to keep an eye on visitors. The museum will add motion detectors and might consider inspecting departing visitors, she said.
The episode is the latest in a string of bold art thefts across Europe. Last weekend, thieves stole a door from the Bataclan concert hall in Paris that featured a mural attributed to the British street artist Banksy and thought to be a tribute to the victims of the 2015 terrorist attack at the venue.
In November, three men walked into the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna, cut a landscape painting by Renoir from its frame, and walked out. A 59-year-old Ukrainian man with a history of art theft was arrested in December over the crime, but the artwork has yet to be recovered, according to Harald Sörös, a spokesman for the Vienna police.
“It’s relatively rare to see someone go into a pretty significant gallery and just lift a painting off the wall,” James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries and general counsel at The Art Loss Register, which tracks and tries to solve art crime, said in a telephone interview of the Tretyakov theft. “There’s no doubt that security there is at a pretty low level to be able to do this without setting off an alarm, without any gallery staff stopping you, and to get out of the building too.”
With his closely cropped haircut and black clothes, the thief appeared to many visitors to be a hip young member of the museum staff, Russian news reports said, although one visitor eventually raised the alarm. .
“It’s amazing what you can achieve by acting confidently,” Mr. Ratcliffe said.