A work by Edgar Degas has been stolen from an exhibition in Marseille by thieves who left no sign of breaking in, said police in the southern French city on Thursday.

The pastel, called Les Choristes (The Chorus), which has an estimated value of €800,000 (£710,000), was discovered to be missing from the Musee Cantini by a security guard when he opened up.

Police said the work, which had been on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris for an exhibition due to end on Sunday, had been stolen overnight.

But Jacques Dallest — the Marseille prosecutor leading the investigation involving France’s anti-art trafficking agency — said he had found no evidence of a break-in. “There do not seem to be any signs of breaking and entering,” he told Reuters. Investigators could not rule out the theory that the theft had been carried out by a “complicit insider”, he added.

The Musee Cantini is one of the best-known galleries in France’s second city with a permanent collection that includes works by Picasso, Matisse and Francis Bacon. The current exhibition, which is also featured paintings by Klimt and others, had been running since October. The stolen Degas is small, measuring just 27cm by 32cm.Despite the shock, however, there was relief that the thief or thieves had not made off with another Degas in the exhibition, also on loan from the Musee d’Orsay. Initial reports of the crime had stated that L’Orchestre de l’Opera, a more valuable canvas worth and estimated €30 million, had been stolen. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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