The 8 famous art thefts
It may strike the best of us that a piece of art that would have been auctioned away, had it not been stolen, will always fetch a price beyond our thoughts. But that’s not how it is. Robert Wittman, the former undercover agent and head of the FBI Art Crime Team says, “Criminals who steal high-value art-works tend to be better thieves than businessmen.” Of course, with the police on a look out for you, and just 10% of the actual cost being offered in an undercover market, who would still want to steal!
But the art thefts still keep happening. What is it that could deter them?
Here are a few art thefts that would make you think of how smart these conmen are.
1. “Mona Lisa” goes missing
It will be unjust to begin shelling the details with anything but Mona Lisa. Who doesn’t know the legendary work by Leonardo da Vinci, the mystery woman with the intriguing half-smile! In 1911, the painting was swept clean off its usual wall in the Louvre Museum, with no traces. After two years of frantic search and doubting the legends like Picasso and Apollinaire for the theft, the French detectives ultimately found it in the house of a former Louvre employee.
2. The Stradivarius Violin strings that held her breath
A Stradivarius Violin is rendered the Holy Grail for those who are passionate about strings. So, in 1995, when the renowned violinist 91-years-old Erica Morini found her Stradivarius missing from her New York apartment, she couldn’t resist the shock and passed away soon after. It was a legacy from 1727, and billed to nothing below a whopping $3 million. The case still owns a place in FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes, and the instrument hasn’t been recovered yet.
3. Two much, two soon!
The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch must have done some absolute wonder in his work, “The Scream”, that it got stolen twice. Yes, and the first time around it got stolen from the National Art Museum of Oslo, in 1994, the four involved thieves did the generous act of leaving a note that said “Thanks for the poor security”. They eventually got caught three months later. But in a decade’s time, two burglars stole it again, and that too along with another of Munch’s work “The Madonna”. Such audacious burglars!
4. The Grand Sweep
If one burglary deserves to be called “The Grand Sweep”, then that would be the 1990 stint at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston. Two thieves enter the museum in the middle of the night, disguised as policemen, at the pretense of investigating a disturbance. Then they vanish into thin air with 13 (Yes, thirteen!) art pieces, including works from Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet. FBI gets to investigate the case aggressively and the Museum offers a $5 million reward, but all this to no avail.
5. The Noble Thieves
Who said burglary is evil? Some know a noble way of doing it. The revered works of Van Gogh, Picasso and Gauguin get ‘stolen’ from The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, only to be retrieved in a nearby disused public loo. The nobel thieves take utmost care of the worth of these works and thus pack them neatly in a cardboard tube, and send out a tip leading the police to the right location of the treasure. And also, a note on the package said that they did it all to bring attention to the poor security of the museum. Well, if only thieves joined the police forces!
6. Greed doesn’t take you far!
Evil just gets worsened as the end approaches. Before World War II and during it, the Nazis looted a huge 20% chunk of European art heritage. Beginning from 1933 to 1945, they cleared their hand over several precious cultural assets that Jews took pride in. These treasures were never recovered because the war gulped them down. Bombing destroyed some, some got sunk in a submarine, some remain hidden by this date, and the remaining just got buried in the chaos.
7. Vincent Van Gone. Errr… Gogh.
The revered work “Poppy Flowers” of the renowned Italian painter has had its share of hardships, we must say. Once stolen from its abode in 1978, it took a decade to be recovered. And that too, from an undiscovered location in Kuwait. We wonder who went to all these lengths to hide his robbery! And then, since 2010, it remains stolen from Mahmoud Khalil Museum. The robbery of this $55 million artwork took place on a day when 36 of the 43 museum cameras weren’t working.
8. “The Pigeon with Green Peas” flies off!
Unlike the other art heists that took a whole team of criminal, kleptomaniac minds with absolutely no apathy for the artworks they’re stealing, this one brings to light a totally new category of burglars.
This decent burglar stole the 1991 Pablo Picasso masterpiece “Le Pigeon Aux PetitsPois” all alone, from Muséed’ArtModerne de la Ville de Paris. And the noble sould he was, he employed the dexterity of a skilled workman to nicely detach the painting from the frame, without harming it. And the crime scene had just a shattered window and a broken padlock. How cute!
There’s no dearth of cases of art heists, and each one is remarkable. We just wonder why the burglars risk so much, and sweep off things that are always in the public scrutiny. That’s the curious case!