The nude bronze of French novelist Honore de Balzac was one of a series of studies Rodin cast for a monument to Balzac on display in Paris. It was donated to the museum in 1966 by the Jewish-American impresario and lyricist Billy Rose.
The statue is probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but an expert worried that it might be sold for scrap.
The museum said the theft was discovered three months ago and immediately reported to police. Police said an investigation is in progress but would provide no further details.
Museum spokeswoman Dina Wosner said the work was one of a series of four that were cast.
Made of bronze, with a dark brown patina, the statue is 50 inches high and 24 inches wide (127 centimeters high and 61 centimeters wide) and weighs about 140 pounds (about 65 kilograms). It was molded in 1892 and cast posthumously between 1918 and 1926.
Rodin, who lived between the years 1840-1917, is renowned for masterpieces such as "The Thinker" and "The Kiss." A Paris museum is devoted to his work. The Rodin Museum refused to comment on the theft.
Opportunity for thieves
The Israel Museum, founded in 1965, is the largest cultural institution in Israel. The museum has the world's most extensive holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology, among them a display of Dead Sea Scrolls.
Last year it completed a comprehensive renovation, including the creation of new galleries, orientation facilities, public spaces and the reinstallation of its encyclopedic collections.
The large-scale construction presumably created an opportunity for the thieves. The museum refused to discuss its security arrangements.
The museum also said it could not provide a value for the Balzac piece. But based on Rodin sculptures of similar dimensions put the estimated value of the stolen item at approximately $350,000, according to the Art Loss Register, which specializes in recovering stolen art.
Christopher Marinello, the executive director and general counsel of The Art Loss Register, said it would be very difficult to sell such a high-profile piece of stolen art in the open market.
He said it was most likely that the thieves would move the piece underground, shop it on the black market or ransom it to an insurance company.
"Thieves don't always think about Plan B. If the opportunity arises ... they seize upon the opportunity they have to remove it," he said. "Sadly, many of these bronze items are sold for scrap, as horrific as that may sound."
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