"Virgin of Alsace," a small marble statue by French artist Antoine Bourdelle worth an estimated $35,000, was stolen yesterday from the music room of the Phillips Collection at 1600 21st St. NW, according to the art museum's director, Laughlin Phillips.

The work, 26 inches high and 50 pounds, was carved in 1920. It shows the Virgin Mary holding up the infant Jesus, his small arms outspread as if on a cross. Duncan Phillips, the museum's founder, bought the sculpture for $2,000 in 1925 for his wife, Marjorie. It has been on display almost continuously since then.

It was the second major theft from the museum in eight years.

According to Phillips, the theft probably took place just before 3:30 p.m., when a guard at one of the museum's entrances became suspicious of a man and woman who were leaving hastily.

"He was carrying a tweed coat in front of him with both arms," Phillips said. "He had both arms wrapped around it, so the guard was very suspicious. He was carrying it in front of his chest. But the museum has 99 percent paintings and just a few sculptures, so the guard was thinking in terms of paintings" and looking for what could be a square object hidden under the coat.

Nevertheless, the guard was worried enough to run outside after the couple to get a better look, Phillips said. The guard "established by sight it wasn't a painting, or didn't appear to be a painting, and did not challenge them."

Still worried, however, the guard searched the museum and found that the sculpture was missing from the music room, which did not have its own guard. Phillips said the man and woman, noticed and remembered by other guards also, were both tall and dark-haired. The woman had, he said, what sounded like a foreign accent.

"The danger is that somebody is going to quickly take it out of the country and sell it," Phillips said.

Paintings in the museum would be more difficult to steal not only because guards are on the lookout for such thefts, but also because the paintings are wired into the walls and attached to burglar alarms, according to Phillips.

In 1975, a group of 21 prints and drawings worth more than $70,000 was stolen from a museum storeroom, but 19 of them were eventually recovered. The other two were paid for by insurance. The sculpture stolen yesterday was insured.

Bourdelle was a sculptor, painter, draftsman and teacher who studied under Rodin. His studio became a famous art school before his death in 1930. According to Phillips, the stolen sculpture was a small version of a large outdoor sculpture located in Alsace. "It was conceived and carried out in joy," the artist wrote to a friend of the larger statue. In another letter, Bourdelle wrote, "I have put a small Jesus on his mother. He holds his arms in the shape of a cross on her, in his childlike, pensive play." graphics/photo: Antoine Bourdelle's "Virgin of Alsace" (1920) Phillips Collection Statue Is Stolen Valued at $35,000; Guard Sees Suspects By Phil McCombs

"Virgin of Alsace," a small marble statue by French artist Antoine Bourdelle worth an estimated $35,000, was stolen yesterday from the music room of the Phillips Collection at 1600 21st St. NW, according to the art museum's director, Laughlin Phillips.

The work, 26 inches high and 50 pounds, was carved in 1920. It shows the Virgin Mary holding up the infant Jesus, his small arms outspread as if on a cross. Duncan Phillips, the museum's founder, bought the sculpture for $2,000 in 1925 for his wife, Marjorie. It has been on display almost continuously since then.

It was the second major theft from the museum in eight years.

According to Phillips, the theft probably took place just before 3:30 p.m., when a guard at one of the museum's entrances became suspicious of a man and woman who were leaving hastily.

"He was carrying a tweed coat in front of him with both arms," Phillips said. "He had both arms wrapped around it, so the guard was very suspicious. He was carrying it in front of his chest. But the museum has 99 percent paintings and just a few sculptures, so the guard was thinking in terms of paintings" and looking for what could be a square object hidden under the coat.

Nevertheless, the guard was worried enough to run outside after the couple to get a better look, Phillips said. The guard "established by sight it wasn't a painting, or didn't appear to be a painting, and did not challenge them."

Still worried, however, the guard searched the museum and found that the sculpture was missing from the music room, which did not have its own guard. Phillips said the man and woman, noticed and remembered by other guards also, were both tall and dark-haired. The woman had, he said, what sounded like a foreign accent.

"The danger is that somebody is going to quickly take it out of the country and sell it," Phillips said.

Paintings in the museum would be more difficult to steal not only because guards are on the lookout for such thefts, but also because the paintings are wired into the walls and attached to burglar alarms, according to Phillips.

In 1975, a group of 21 prints and drawings worth more than $70,000 was stolen from a museum storeroom, but 19 of them were eventually recovered. The other two were paid for by insurance. The sculpture stolen yesterday was insured.

Bourdelle was a sculptor, painter, draftsman and teacher who studied under Rodin. His studio became a famous art school before his death in 1930. According to Phillips, the stolen sculpture was a small version of a large outdoor sculpture located in Alsace. "It was conceived and carried out in joy," the artist wrote to a friend of the larger statue. In another letter, Bourdelle wrote, "I have put a small Jesus on his mother. He holds his arms in the shape of a cross on her, in his childlike, pensive play."