Interpol has been notified and police have put alerts on New Zealand borders after two Gottfried Lindauer paintings were stolen in a ram raid at an Auckland art gallery this morning.
Police said a car was driven into the International Art Centre at Parnell about 4am, and the 1884 Gottfried Lindauer paintings known as Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure were taken.
The paintings were to be up for auction this month and were reported to be worth $450,000 each.
Area Commander Inspector Matt Srhoj said they had located the vehicle used in the raid but were still looking for another vehicle that fled.
He said more than one person was involved, and it happened very quickly.
Inspector Srhoj said Interpol had been notified, but he could not speculate on the thieves' motives or plans.
Mr Srhoj said police will be putting alerts on New Zealand's borders.
Victoria University art historian Roger Blackley said he was very concerned for the pieces.
"Shattered glass is among the last thing a fragile oil painting on canvas needs, or is able to withstand"
Associate Professor Blackley said the damage to a Tissot painting stolen from Auckland Art Gallery in 1998 was done when the thief threw the painting on the floor and the glass broke.
Lindauer is famous for painting detailed portraits of Māori in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many were commissioned by Henry Partridge and were later gifted to the city of Auckland.
Prof Blackley said the stolen paintings were some of Lindauer's best work.
"Where they're in customary Māori dress exhibiting a whole range of types of pounamu ornament and wonderful cloaks, those are the very types of paintings by Lindauer that attract the highest prices."
A large glass window at the front of the centre has been left shattered by the raid.
Several police officers were at the scene today.