Suicidal Roman matrons never stopped for gas.

But there she is, the most famous of them all, Lucretia gazing out over the pumps at Bobby and Steve’s Auto World in downtown Minneapolis. With a bloody knife in hand, she is hanging out by the barbecue grill where customers chow down on brats and half-pound burgers while waiting for an oil change.

No gas station regular, “Lucretia” is a visitor from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts — a full-size copy of a 1666 Rembrandt painting that is the most famous in the museum’s collection.

“I’ve never seen a Rembrandt,” said Robin Olson, a builder who had stopped under the picture, depicting a virtuous noblewoman who committed suicide after being raped. After studying it, he joked, “So it’s the same guy who makes the whitening toothpaste then?”

The painting is one of four high-quality reproductions, including works by Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and Chaim Soutine, that the museum is placing in unusual spots during May to celebrate its centennial and Minnesota’s Museum Month.

“As part of our birthday year we want to bring art to the community in surprising ways,” said Katie Hill, the museum’s audience-engagement specialist, who is overseeing weekly surprises all year.

Weatherproofed masterpieces

The “paintings” have been weatherproofed with fancy shellac so they can survive rain, hail and temperature fluctuations that would destroy real art.

Super-high-resolution digital images were printed on canvas that the museum’s frame maker, Kurt Nordwall, stretched onto wooden bases. Next, staff photographer Charles Walbridge made 3-D scans of the original frames and had exact copies made using a computer-controlled router. Nordwall then finished the raw wood frames with primer, paint, wax and dirt to replicate the patina of age.

“It’s a complex process, but we really wanted them to look authentic so people would do a double take,” said Hill.

Even Bobby and Steve’s staff members have been fooled.

“When I first saw it, I was worried that it was real because it’s going to get rained on,” said Mike Esteviz, a service adviser at the station. Lots of customers have commented on the picture, he said, adding that it was “pretty neat.”

Colin O’Donnell, a station clerk who lives near the museum and visits it regularly, approved of the gas-station art.

“It’s nice to class up the place a bit and to catch people off guard.”

Reproductions on view elsewhere are Monet’s “Grainstack, Sun in the Mist” outside the U.S. Bank branch at 2420 Hennepin Av. S. in Uptown; Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees” at the Central Library at 300 Nicollet Mall, and Chaim Soutine’s “Carcass of Beef” outside Kramarczuk’s Deli at 215 E. Hennepin Av. in northeast Minneapolis.

All four will move to new sites on May 16 for the rest of the month. Weather permitting, museum docents will be on site from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. each Saturday during May to talk about the paintings and answer questions.

The museum hasn’t decided what will happen to the reproductions after that.

“Hoping they’ve all survived, we’d like to keep them to put up around the community, but we don’t want to make any promises,” said Hill. “There have been plenty of volunteers to take them off our hands though.”

Mike Tomaw, a financial adviser from Madison, Wis., who had stopped to fill up his GMC Terrain, studied “Lucretia” skeptically.

“That person does not look happy,” he said dryly. His own taste runs more to Art Deco than Dutch Masters, he said, but even so he applauded the visit by “Lucretia.”

“A Rembrandt at a gas station,” he said. “I think there should be more of that.”