Intruders Damage Renowned Claude Monet Painting in French Museum

Intruders, apparently drunk, broke into the Orsay Museum through a back door early Sunday and punched a hole in a renowned work by Impressionist painter Claude Monet, the French culture minister said.

A surveillance camera caught a group of four to five people entering the museum, which houses a major collection of Impressionist art on the Left Bank of the French capital along the Seine River.

An alarm sounded and the group left, but not before damaging an invaluable painting, "Le Pont d'Argenteuil," Culture Minister Christine Albanel said.

"We know there were four or five people, likely four boys and a girl, who entered around midnight to 1 a.m., broke a door that was, perhaps, fragile," Albanel said. "It appears they were drunk. ... Someone punched the magnificent masterpiece by Monet."

No arrests were immediately made and there were no signs the group was armed, Albanel told reporters at a news conference.

The intruders "tried to force other doors" before succeeding at a back door, "even though it had big bolts," she said, wondering aloud if the bolts might have been faulty. The painting hung on the ground floor with other Impressionist masterpieces.

Albanel said the painting could be restored, but she deplored the damage.

"It's always a heartbreak when an art object that is our memory, our heritage, that we love and that we are proud of is victim of a purely criminal act," she said.

The painting, shown to reporters, bore a horizontal tear about 4 inches in length that exposed threads of canvas. It looked to have been punched in with a fist.

Monet led the 19th century Impressionist movement, experimenting notably with light and color in works now deemed priceless.

"Le Pont d'Argenteuil" shows a view of the Seine at a rural bend, featuring a bridge and boats.

The break-in occurred during Paris' annual all-night festival which brings thousands of people into the streets for concerts and exhibits.