10 Famous Art Heists

10 Famous Art Heists

Mona Lisa Leaves the Louvre (1911)
On August 21, 1911, an amateur painter set up his easel near the spot where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”—one of the most famous works of art in the world—hung in the Louvre. To his surprise, the mysterious woman with the haunting half-smile had vanished. French detectives searched for the painting for more than two years, mistakenly hauling in poet Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Pablo Picasso in hopes of cracking the high-profile case. Then, in December 1913, an Italian house painter contacted a prominent art dealer in Florence, claiming to be in possession of the celebrated portrait. Police swooped in and arrested Vincenzo Peruggia, a former Louvre employee. It turned out Peruggia had walked unnoticed into the museum, removed the “Mona Lisa” from its frame and spirited it out under his clothes. Hailed as a patriot in his native Italy, the burglar served six months in jail for the crime.

Pirates Pilfer Hans Memling’s The Last Judgment (1473)
The first documented art heist occurred in 1473, when a triptych by the Dutch painter Hans Memling was stolen by Polish pirates while traveling by ship to Florence. The buccaneers brought the altarpiece to a cathedral in Gdańsk, Poland, and to this day it remains in that city’s national museum.

The Scream Goes AWOL, Twice (1994 and 2004)
It’s a good thing the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch created several iterations of his most famous work, “The Scream,” since two of them have fallen into the hands of art thieves in the last two decades. First, in February 1994, four men broke into the National Art Museum in Oslo and stole its version of the iconic painting, leaving behind a note that read, “Thanks for the poor security.” It was recovered three months later through a sting operation. In August 2004, two masked robbers entered Oslo’s Munch Museum, holding tourists and employees at gunpoint as they tore another version of “The Scream” as well as Munch’s “The Madonna” off the wall. Norwegian police tracked down the paintings, which had both sustained tears and water damage, and apprehended the thieves in 2006.

Nazis Plunder European Art (1933-1945)
Before and during World War II, Nazis looted an estimated 20 percent of Europe’s rich art heritage, confiscating precious cultural assets either owned by Jews or in museums within occupied cities. Hitler, himself a failed artist, hoped to amass a giant collection for his unrealized Führermuseum. Among countless other treasures (many of which were recovered after the war), German soldiers seized the sculptures and other decorations that adorned the Amber Room (above), a lavish chamber in the Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg. Its fabled contents never resurfaced, and over the years it has been speculated that they were destroyed by bombing, lost in a sunken submarine, hidden in a bunker or buried in a lagoon.

Sweden’s National Museum Loses Two Renoirs and a Rembrandt (2000)
In December 2000, a gang of thieves used sensational tactics to rob the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm. As one gunman threatened security staff, two others filched two paintings by Renoir and one by Rembrandt. Meanwhile, the robbers’ accomplices blew up cars in other parts of the city to prevent police from fully responding to the situation. The burglars then jumped into a getaway speedboat outside the waterfront museum with their spoils. By 2005 all three of the missing pieces had been recovered.

Fake Cops Loot the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (1990)
One of the biggest art heists in history took place on March 18, 1990, when two thieves disguised as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the middle of the night, telling guards they were investigating a disturbance. They made off with 13 works of art, including paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet. The museum offered a $5 million reward and the FBI launched a massive investigation, but the pieces and burglars remain at large.

Ghent Altarpiece Loses a Panel (1934)
Painted by the Flemish artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck, the multi-paneled Ghent Altarpiece was created in the 15th century for the cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent, Belgium. It has come under numerous threats throughout its tumultuous history, with first the French and later the Germans temporarily seizing parts of it. By the end of World War I, all of the components returned to their original home—but the reunion was brief. One night in 1934, thieves broke into the cathedral and stole the lower left panel, which was never seen again. During World War II experts painted a replica that remains in place to this day; its high quality has led some to surmise that it is actually the original, hiding in plain sight.

Cat Burglar Robs the Musée d’Art Moderne (2010)
One night last May, a masked man thought to have acted alone crept into Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne and slipped out with five priceless paintings, including Picasso’s “Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois” (above) and Matisse’s “La Pastorale.” Investigators are still hunting down the paintings, which experts have described as unsellable due to the public nature of the crime.

Whitworth Art Gallery Treasures Wind Up in the Loo (2003)
Three paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso and Gauguin, worth an estimated $8 million, spent a rainy night in a disused public bathroom after vanishing from the nearby Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. Police investigating the theft received an anonymous tip that led them to the missing artwork’s unlikely hiding place a day after their disappearance on April 26, 2003. The paintings were found stuffed in a cardboard tube inscribed with a note claiming that the thieves had engineered the caper to highlight poor security at the museum.

Bogus Tourists Lift Madonna of the Yarwinder (2003)
In August 2003, two thieves posing as tourists plucked the “Madonna of the Yarwinder,” a Renaissance masterpiece believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, off a wall of Scotland’s Drumlanrig Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke of Buccleuch. Four years later, police retrieved the painting during a raid of a Glasgow law firm, and eight men were charged in connection with the theft. The work is now on display at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.


10 of the Greatest Museum Heists in History

Art theft has been one of the most lucrative crimes for hundreds of years, providing thieves with the greatest financial pay-off in the smallest amount of time and/or weight carried. Paintings by cele

Art theft has been one of the most lucrative crimes for hundreds of years, providing thieves with the greatest financial pay-off in the smallest amount of time and/or weight carried. Paintings by celebrated artists around the globe are often valued at tens of millions of dollars and sit in museums that aren’t necessarily as secured as one might think. Several of these institutions have been proven to only keep a minimum number of guards on duty in the evening and some still lack metal detectors and adequate alarm systems. Little is known about the inner workings of the art theft world, as only 5-10% of stolen paintings are ever recovered.

When burglarizing art on such a recognizable scale, thieves know that they won’t be able to sell these works publicly or they’ll risk getting caught. However, private collectors have been known to hire criminals to acquire a piece and then pay them a significant cut of the painting’s resale value. If they aren’t commissioned by private buyers, thieves steal art as a means of getting ransom money from the original owners – ie. the museum itself. Then there are the burglars who do this for sport, thrilled by the scale of what they manage to accomplish stealing. Over $3 billion worth of art is stolen and resold each year, making it one of the most financially rewarding crimes to tap into besides drug dealing. Below, we’ve compiled some of the greatest art thefts of all time.


Contents

Many thieves are motivated by the fact that valuable art pieces are worth millions of dollars and weigh only a few kilograms at most. Also, while most high-profile museums have extremely tight security, many places with multimillion-dollar art collections have disproportionately poor security measures. [6] That makes them susceptible to thefts that are slightly more complicated than a typical smash-and-grab, but offer a huge potential payoff. Thieves sometimes target works based on their own familiarity with the artist, rather than the artist's reputation in the art world or the theoretical value of the work. [7]

Unfortunately for the thieves, it is extremely difficult to sell the most famous and valuable works without getting caught, because any interested buyer will almost certainly know the work is stolen and advertising it risks someone contacting the authorities. It is also difficult for the buyer to display the work to visitors without it being recognized as stolen, thus defeating much of the point of owning the art. Many famous works have instead been held for ransom from the legitimate owner or even returned without ransom, due to the lack of black-market customers. Returning for ransom also risks a sting operation. [7]

For those with substantial collections, such as the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, the risk of theft is neither negligible nor negotiable. [8] Jean-Baptiste Oudry's White Duck was stolen from the Cholmondeley collection at Houghton Hall in 1990. The canvas is still missing. [9]

Museums can take numerous measures to prevent the theft of artworks include having enough guides or guards to watch displayed items, avoiding situations where security-camera sightlines are blocked, and fastening paintings to walls with hanging wires that are not too thin and with locks. [10]

Art theft education Edit

The Smithsonian Institution sponsors the National Conference on Cultural Property Protection, held annually in Washington, D. C. The conference is aimed at professionals in the field of cultural property protection.

Since 1996, the Netherlands-based Museum Security Network has disseminated news and information related to issues of cultural property loss and recovery. Since its founding the Museum Security Network has collected and disseminated over 45,000 reports about incidents with cultural property. The founder of the Museum Security Network, Ton Cremers, is recipient of the National Conference on Cultural Property Protection Robert Burke Award.

2007 saw the foundation of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA). ARCA is a nonprofit think tank dedicated principally to raising the profile of art crime (art forgery and vandalism, as well as theft) as an academic subject. Since 2009, ARCA has offered an unaccredited postgraduate certificate program dedicated to this field of study. The Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is held from June to August every year in Italy. A few American universities, including New York University, also offer courses on art theft.

In the public sphere, Interpol, the FBI Art Crime Team, London's Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit, New York Police Department's special frauds squad [3] and a number of other law enforcement agencies worldwide maintain "squads" dedicated to investigating thefts of this nature and recovering stolen works of art.

According to Robert King Wittman, a former FBI agent who led the Art Crime Team until his retirement in 2008, the unit is very small compared with similar law-enforcement units in Europe, and most art thefts investigated by the FBI involve agents at local offices who handle routine property theft. "Art and antiquity crime is tolerated, in part, because it is considered a victimless crime," Wittman said in 2010. [10]

In response to a growing public awareness of art theft and recovery, a number of not-for-profit and private companies now act both to record information about losses and oversee recovery efforts for claimed works of art. Among the most notable are:

In January 2017, Spain's Interior Ministry announced that police from 18 European countries, with the support of Interpol, Europol, and Unesco, had arrested 75 people involved in an international network of art traffickers. The pan-European operation had begun in October, 2016 and led to the recovery of about 3,500 stolen items including archaeological artifacts and other artwork. The ministry did not provide an inventory of recovered items or the locations of the arrests. [11]

In 1969 the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism formed the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC), better known as the Carabinieri Art Squad. In 1980, the TPC established the database Leonardo, with information about more than 1 million stolen artworks, and accessible to law enforcement agencies around the world. [12]

From 1933 through the end of World War II, the Nazi regime maintained a policy of looting art for sale or for removal to museums in the Third Reich. Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, personally took charge of hundreds of valuable pieces, generally stolen from Jews and other victims of the Holocaust.

In early 2011, about 1,500 art masterpieces, assumed to have been stolen by the Nazis during and before World War II, were confiscated from a private home in Munich, Germany. The confiscation was not made public until November 2013. [13] With an estimated value of $1 billion, their discovery is considered "astounding", [14] and includes works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Max Beckmann and Emil Nolde, all of which were considered lost. [15]

The looted, mostly Modernist art was banned by the Nazis when they came to power, on the grounds that it was "un-German" or Jewish Bolshevist in nature. [16] Descendants of Jewish collectors who were robbed of their works by the Nazis may be able to claim ownership of many of the works. [15] Members of the families of the original owners of these artworks have, in many cases, persisted in claiming title to their pre-war property.

The 1964 film The Train, starring Burt Lancaster, is based on the true story of works of art which had been placed in storage for protection in France during the war, but was looted by the Germans from French museums and private art collections, to be shipped by train back to Germany. Another film, The Monuments Men (2014), co-produced, co-written and directed by George Clooney, is based on a similar true-life story. In this film, U.S. soldiers are tasked with saving over a million pieces of art and other culturally important items throughout Europe, before their destruction by Nazi plunder.

In 2006, after a protracted court battle in the United States and Austria (see Republic of Austria v. Altmann), five paintings by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt were returned to Maria Altmann, the niece of pre-war owner, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. Two of the paintings were portraits of Altmann's aunt, Adele. The more famous of the two, the gold Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was sold in 2006 by Altmann and her co-heirs to philanthropist Ronald Lauder for $135 million. At the time of the sale, it was the highest known price ever paid for a painting. The remaining four restituted paintings were later sold at Christie's New York for over $190 million.

Because antiquities are often regarded by the country of origin as national treasures, there are numerous cases where artworks (often displayed in the acquiring country for decades) have become the subject of highly charged and political controversy. One prominent example is the case of the Elgin Marbles, which were moved from the Parthenon to the British Museum in 1816 by the Earl of Elgin. Many different Greek governments have called for the repatriation of the marbles. [17]

Similar controversies have arisen over Etruscan, Aztec, and Italian artworks, with advocates of the originating countries generally alleging that the artifacts taken form a vital part of the countries cultural heritage. Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History is engaged (as of November 2006) in talks with the government of Peru about possible repatriation of artifacts taken during the excavation of Machu Picchu by Yale's Hiram Bingham. Likewise, the Chinese government considers Chinese art in foreign hands to be stolen and there may be a clandestine repatriation effort underway. [18]

In 2006, New York's Metropolitan Museum reached an agreement with Italy to return many disputed pieces. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is also involved in a series of cases of this nature. The artwork in question is of Greek and ancient Italian origin. The museum agreed on November 20, 2006, to return 26 contested pieces to Italy. One of the Getty's signature pieces, a statue of the goddess Aphrodite, is the subject of particular scrutiny.

In January 2013, after investigations by Interpol, FBI and The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, police in Canada arrested John Tillmann for an enormous spate of art thefts. It was later determined that Tillmann in conjunction with his Russian wife, had for over twenty years stolen at least 10,000 different art objects from museums, galleries, archives and shops around the world. While not the largest art heist in total dollar value, Tillmann's case may be the largest ever in number of objects stolen.

Perhaps the most famous case of art theft occurred on August 21, 1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre by employee Vincenzo Peruggia, who was caught after two years.

The Nazi plundering of artworks was carried out by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die Besetzen Gebiete). In occupied France, the Jeu de Paume Art Museum in Paris was used as a central storage and sorting depot for looted artworks from museums and private art collections throughout France pending distribution to various persons and places in Germany. The Nazis confiscated tens of thousands of works from their legitimate Jewish owners. Some were confiscated by the Allies at the end of the war. Many ended up in the hands of respectable collectors and institutions. Jewish ownership of some of the art was codified into the Geneva conventions.

In 1945, an American soldier, Joe Meador, stole eight medieval artifacts found in a mineshaft near Quedlinburg, which had been hidden by members of the local clergy from Nazi looters in 1943.

After he returned to the United States, the artifacts remained in Meador's possession until his death in 1980. He made no attempt to sell them. When his older brother and sister attempted to sell a 9th-century manuscript and 16th-century prayer book in 1990, the two were charged. However, the charges were dismissed after it was declared the statute of limitations had expired.

Three paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe were stolen while on display at the art gallery of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. The paintings were eventually found by O'Keeffe following their purchase by the Princeton Gallery of Fine Arts for $35,000 in 1975. O'Keeffe sued the museum for their return and, despite a six-year statute of limitations on art theft, a state appellate court ruled in her favor on July 27, 1979.

A total of eight Old Master paintings—three each by Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens, and one each by Adam Elsheimer and Gerrit Dou—were removed from this London gallery. The paintings were appraised at a combined value of £1.5 million (then US$4.2 million). The thieves entered the gallery by cutting a panel out of an unused door. All of the paintings were recovered by January 4, 1967.

Sketches by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and British sculptor Henry Moore, valued at $200,000, were stolen while on display in a travelling art exhibit organized by the University of Michigan. The sketches were eventually found by federal agents in a California auction house on January 24, 1969, although no arrests were made.

Various artifacts and other art worth $5 million were stolen from the Izmir Archaeology Museum in Istanbul, Turkey on July 24, 1969 (during which a night watchman was killed by the unidentified thieves). Turkish police soon arrested a German citizen who, at the time of his arrest on August 1, had 128 stolen items in his car.

Art thieves stole seven paintings, including works by Cassatt, Monet, Pissarro and Rouault, from art dealer Stephen Hahn's Madison Avenue art gallery at an estimated value of $500,000 on the night of November 17, 1969. Incidentally, Stephen Hahn had been discussing art theft with other art dealers as the theft was taking place.

On September 4, 1972, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was the site of the largest art theft in Canadian history, when armed thieves made off with jewelry, figurines and 18 paintings worth a total of $2 million (approximately $10.9 million today), including works by Delacroix, Gainsborough and a rare Rembrandt landscape. Other than a work at the time attributed to Brueghel the Elder returned by the thieves as an effort to start negotiations, the works have never been recovered. In 2003, The Globe and Mail estimated that the Rembrandt alone would be worth $1 million.

Russborough House, the Irish estate of the late Sir Alfred Beit, has been robbed four times since 1974.

In 1974, members of the IRA, including Rose Dugdale, bound and gagged the Beits, making off with nineteen paintings worth an estimated £8 million. A deal to exchange the paintings for prisoners was offered, but the paintings were recovered after a raid on a rented cottage in Cork, and those responsible were caught and imprisoned.

In 1986, a Dublin gang led by Martin Cahill stole eighteen paintings worth an estimated £30 million in total. Sixteen paintings were subsequently recovered, with a further two still missing As of 2006 [update] .

Two paintings worth an estimated £3 million were stolen by three armed men in 2001. One of these, a Gainsborough had been previously stolen by Cahill's gang. Both paintings were recovered in September 2002.

A mere two to three days after the recovery of the two paintings stolen in 2001, the house was robbed for the fourth time, with five paintings taken. These paintings were recovered in December 2002 during a search of a house in Clondalkin.

Following the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 by Turkey, and the occupation of the northern part of the island churches belonging to the Cypriot Orthodox Church have been looted in what is described as "…one of the most systematic examples of the looting of art since World War II". [20] Several high-profile cases have made headline news on the international scene. Most notable was the case of the Kanakaria mosaics, 6th century AD frescoes that were removed from the original church, trafficked to the US and offered for sale to a museum for the sum of US$20,000,000. These were subsequently recovered by the Orthodox Church following a court case in Indianapolis.

On January 31, 1976, 118 paintings, drawings and other works by Picasso were stolen from an exhibition at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France.

On April 15, 1983, more than 200 rare clocks and watches were stolen from the L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. Among the stolen watches was one known as the Marie-Antoinette, the most valuable piece of the watch collection made by the French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet on order by Queen Marie Antoinette, it is estimated to be worth $30 million. The heist is considered to be the largest robbery in Israel. The man responsible for the robbery was Naaman Diller. On November 18, 2008, French and Israeli police officials discovered half of the cache of stolen timepieces in two bank safes in France. Of the 106 rare timepieces stolen in 1983, 96 have now been recovered. Among those recovered was the rare Marie-Antoinette watch. In 2010, Nilli Shomrat, Diller's widow, was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and given a five-year suspended sentence for possession of stolen property.

On October 28, 1985, during daylight hours, five masked gunmen with pistols at the security and visitors entered the museum and stole nine paintings from the collection. Among them were Impression, Sunrise (Impression, Soleil Levant) by Claude Monet, the painting from which the Impressionism movement took from. Aside from that also stolen were Camille Monet and Cousin on the Beach at Trouville, Portrait of Jean Monet, Portrait of Poly, Fisherman of Belle-Isle and Field of Tulips in Holland also by Monet, Bather Sitting on a Rock and Portrait of Monet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Woman at the Ball by Berthe Morisot, and Portrait of Monet by Sei-ichi Naruse and were valued at $12 million. [28] The paintings were later recovered in Corsica in 1990. [29]

The largest art theft, and the largest theft of any private property, in world history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990, when thieves stole 13 pieces, collectively worth $300 million, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. A reward of $5,000,000 was on offer for information leading to their return, but expired at the end of 2017.

The pieces stolen were: Vermeer's The Concert, which is the most valuable stolen painting in the world two Rembrandt paintings, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Portrait of a Lady and Gentleman in Black A Rembrandt self-portrait etching Manet's Chez Tortoni five drawings by Edgar Degas Govaert Flinck's Landscape with an Obelisk an ancient Chinese Qu and a finial that once stood atop a flag from Napoleon's Army.

In 1994, Edvard Munch's The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, and held for ransom. It was recovered later in the year.

Three paintings were stolen from a German gallery in 1994, two of them belonging to the Tate Gallery in London. In 1998, Tate conceived of Operation Cobalt, the secret buyback of the paintings from the thieves. The paintings were recovered in 2000 and 2002, resulting in a profit of several million pounds for Tate, because of prior insurance payments.

While being stored in preparation to be reproduced, the portrait of Thomas Jefferson painted by artist Mather Brown in 1786, was stolen from a Boston warehouse on July 28, 1994. Authorities apprehended the thieves and recovered the painting on May 24, 1996, following a protracted FBI investigation.

The work of Henri Matisse Odalisque with red trousers, dating back to 1925 was stolen from the museum and replaced by a bad imitation, this work valued at ten million dollars was recovered in 2012 and returned to the institution two years later.

In July 1999, Los Angeles ophthalmologist Steven Cooperman was convicted of insurance fraud for arranging the theft of two paintings, a Picasso and a Monet, from his home in an attempt to collect $17.5 million in insurance.

One Rembrandt and two Renoir paintings were stolen from the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden, after three armed thieves, who had diverted the attention of police by setting off two separate car bombs nearby beforehand, broke into the museum and fled using a boat, moored nearby. By 2001, the police had recovered one of the Renoirs and by March 2005 they had recovered the second one in Los Angeles. That year, in September, they recovered the Rembrandt in a sting operation in a hotel in Copenhagen.

Stephane Breitwieser admitted to stealing 238 artworks and other exhibits from museums travelling around Europe his motive was to build a vast personal collection. In January 2005, Breitwieser was given a 26-month prison sentence. Unfortunately, over 60 paintings, including masterpieces by Brueghel, Watteau, François Boucher, and Corneille de Lyon were chopped up by Breitwieser's mother, Mireille Stengel, in what police believe was an effort to remove incriminating evidence against her son.

The two paintings Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and View of the Sea at Scheveningen by Vincent van Gogh were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Two men were convicted for the theft. The FBI Art Crime Team estimates their combined value at US$30 million. The paintings were recovered from the Naples mafia in September 2016 following a raid on a house at Castellammare di Stabia, near Pompeii.

Initially it was speculated the three pieces had been stolen to order, however, shortly after 02:00 on Monday April 28, police received an anonymous 999 call directing them to a disused public lavatory in the adjacent Whitworth Park, some 200 metres from the gallery. The artworks were discovered in the toilets, rolled up inside a brown cardboard poster tube alongside a handwritten note criticising the gallery's security. (The Whitworth Gallery had in fact updated its security system two years prior). The pieces suffered minor damage, with the Van Gogh bearing a small tear in the corner, and the Picasso and Gauguin both water damaged. However, all were restored and returned to public view within a matter of weeks. The frames were not recovered.

On August 22, 2004, another original of The Scream was stolen—Munch painted several versions of The Scream—together with Munch's Madonna. This time the thieves targeted the version held by the Munch Museum, from where the two paintings were stolen at gunpoint and during opening hours. Both paintings were recovered on August 31, 2006, relatively undamaged. Three men have already been convicted, but the gunmen remain at large. If caught, they could face up to eight years in prison.

On March 6, 2005, three more Munch paintings were stolen from a hotel in Norway, including Blue Dress, and were recovered the next day.

On May 11, 2003, Benvenuto Cellini's Saliera was stolen from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which was covered by a scaffolding at that time due to reconstruction works. On January 21, 2006, the Saliera was recovered by the Austrian police.

The artist's cast of Reclining Figure 1969–70, a bronze sculpture of British sculptor Henry Moore, was stolen from the Henry Moore Foundation's Perry Green base on December 15, 2005. Thieves are believed to have lifted the 3.6 × 2 × 2 metres (11.8 × 6.6 × 6.6 ft) wide, 2.1-tonne statue onto the back of a Mercedes lorry using a crane. Police investigating the theft believe it could have been stolen for scrap value.

On February 24, 2006, the paintings Man of Sickly Complexion Listening to the Sound of the Sea by Salvador Dalí, The Dance by Pablo Picasso, Luxembourg Gardens by Henri Matisse, and Marine by Claude Monet were stolen from the Museu da Chácara do Céu [pt] in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The thieves took advantage of a carnival parade passing by the museum and disappeared into the crowd. The paintings haven't been recovered yet.

On December 20, 2007, around five o'clock in the morning, three men invaded the São Paulo Museum of Art and took two paintings, considered to be among the most valuable of the museum: the Portrait of Suzanne Bloch by Pablo Picasso and Cândido Portinari's O lavrador de café. The whole action took about 3 minutes. The paintings, which are listed as Brazilian National Heritage by IPHAN, [47] remained missing until January 8, 2008, when they were recovered in Ferraz de Vasconcelos by the Police of São Paulo. The paintings were returned, undamaged, to the São Paulo Museum of Art. [48] [49]

On February 11, 2008, four major impressionist paintings were stolen from the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Zürich, Switzerland. They were Monet's Poppy Field at Vetheuil, Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter by Edgar Degas, Van Gogh's Blossoming Chestnut Branches, and Cézanne's Boy in the Red Vest. The total worth of the four is estimated at $163 million.

On June 12, 2008, three armed men broke into the Pinacoteca do Estado Museum, São Paulo with a crowbar and a carjack around 5:09 am and stole The Painter and the Model (1963) and Minotaur, Drinker and Women (1933) by Pablo Picasso, Women at the Window (1926) by Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, and Couple (1919) by Lasar Segall. It was the second theft of art in São Paulo in six months. On August 6, 2008, two paintings were discovered in the house of one of the thieves and recovered by police in the same city.

On February 11, 2010 Rácz Erzsébet, owner of the painting of Palma il Giovane - Venus with a Mirror, reported a set of robberies. In its course all of her art collection were taken. Among other paintings this one too. The painting: oil, dry fresco, wooden tablet. Szépművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Fine Arts registration number: 290137.

On May 20, 2010, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris reported the overnight theft of five paintings from its collection. The paintings taken were Le pigeon aux petits pois by Pablo Picasso, La Pastorale by Henri Matisse, L'Olivier près de l'Estaque by Georges Braque, La Femme à l'éventail (Modigliani) [fr] by Amedeo Modigliani and Still Life with Candlestick (Nature Morte aux Chandeliers) by Fernand Léger and were valued at €100 million ($123 million). The thief was eventually found to be Vjeran Tomic.

On June 19, 2012, Salvador Dalí's Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio was stolen from the then month-old Venus Over Manhattan gallery in New York City. The theft was captured on tape. The drawing was mailed back to the gallery from Greece, and was displayed for the last day of a 10-day show.

On October 16, 2012, seven paintings were stolen from the museum in Rotterdam. The paintings included Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London, Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Gauguin's Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte, Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune, De Haan's Autoportrait, and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed.

On January 18, 2013, police in Canada arrested John Mark Tillmann of Fall River Nova Scotia after extensive investigations by Interpol, FBI, RCMP and the US Dept of Homeland Security. The case was mammoth and it took authorities nearly three years to close the file. Tillmann was sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing over 10,000 pieces of art-work. In sheer volume, it may be the biggest case of art heist of all time. It was later determined that Tillmann had acted in concert with his Russian wife and her brother, and that they had travelled extensively posing as security and maintenance workers to gain access to museums. Successfully eluding authorities for almost twenty years, the trio had stolen millions of dollars of artifacts in every continent except Australia. Tillmann and his accomplice wife, even raided the Nova Scotia Provincial Legislature in his home province, making off with a valuable 200 year old watercolour. He was versatile in his art thefts, not solely concentrating on paintings, but also known for stealing rare books, statutes, coins, edged weapons, and even a 5,000 year old Egyptian mummy. A university graduate, he was a history buff.

In 2006, about 8 antique Chola idols, that of Natarajar and Uma Mashewari, Vinayagar, Devi, Deepalaksmi, Chandrashekarar, Sampanthar and Krishnar, were stolen from the Brihadeeswarar temple at Sripuranthan, allegedly on the orders of New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor, and smuggled to the United States. Of these statues the Natarajar idol was sold to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra for US$5.1 million and the Vinayagar idol to the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, and the Uma Maheswari idol to Asian Civilisation Museum, Singapore. The scandal was exposed by the investigative website Chasing Aphrodite, and received wide coverage in the Indian media. The Australian Government decided to return to idol to India and it was handed over to the Indian Prime Minister. The other museums also agreed to return the stolen idols.

In May 2016 seven people were detained in connection with the case, they stand accused for masterminding the heist and are currently on parole. However the artworks (which are believed to remain somewhere in Spain) were not found.

In July 2017 three of the five paintings were recovered by the Spanish police.

Images of some artworks that have been stolen and have not yet been recovered.


2. The Tucker Cross Theft

In 1955, a Bermudian man named Teddy Tucker was scuba diving in the wreckage of the San Pedro, a Spanish ship that sunk near the Florida Keys during a hurricane in 1594, and he found this 22-carat gold-and-emerald cross. He brought it home and sold it to the government of Bermuda, and it was displayed in a museum on the island (that he and his wife owned and ran) for several years.

However, in 1975, just before an official visit by Queen Elizabeth II, the cross was stolen and replaced with a cheap replica. Authorities don't know who stole the cross — which was considered to be the most valuable object ever found in a shipwreck — or where it may be now.


FBI Top 10 Art Crimes

In my free time, I bum around the Federal Bureau of Investigation website because, really, who doesn’t? Despite being a bit clunky, it is surprisingly light on intimidation and yields plenty of true-crime gems. There are rundowns on public corruption, cyber crime, counterintelligence and the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes (though weirdly enough there are only nine listed?).

In November 2005, the FBI announced “the creation of a Top Ten Art Crimes list to help bring attention to stolen masterworks and elicit the public’s help in recovering them and bringing the thieves to justice.”

If you have any Pink Panther leanings you’ll want to sift through all the details of these mysterious crimes and, if you’ve got your Sherlock cap on, submit your leads or crime tips to the FBI.

MISSING–Renoir Oil Painting

On Sept. 8, 2011, Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair by Pierre Auguste Renoir was stolen during an armed robbery in a Houston home. The masked robber is described as a white male, 18 to 26 years old, who weighs about 160 pounds and is approximately 5’10” tall.

He was armed with a large-caliber, semi-automatic handgun. A private insurer is offering up to $50,000 for information leading to the recovery of the painting.

STOLEN–Van Mieris Masterwork

On June 10, 2007, A Cavalier, a self-portrait in oil on wood panel by Dutch Master Frans Van Mieris, was stolen from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. The piece was stolen while the gallery was open for public viewing.

The piece was stolen while the gallery was open for public viewing. The relatively small portrait measures 20 x 16 cm. Its value is estimated at over $1 million.

SNATCHED–Monet, Picasso, Matisse and Dali

On Feb. 24, 2006, about 4:00 PM, four works of art and other objects were stolen from the Museu Chacara do Céu, Rio de Janeiro, by four armed men. The value of the stolen items has not been estimated.

GONE–Two Maxfield Parrish Paintings

In July 2002, two oil paintings by Maxfield Parrish were stolen during a burglary of a gallery in West Hollywood, California. The paintings are two panels from a series commissioned for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s 5th Avenue mansion in New York.

The paintings were cut from their frames during the theft. The value of the two paintings is estimated at $4 million.

WHODUNIT–Cezanne Landscape

On Dec. 31, 1999, during the fireworks that accompanied the celebration of the millennium, a thief broke into the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, and stole Cezanne’s landscape painting View of Auvers-sur-Oise.

Valued at £3 million, the painting has been described as an important work illustrating the transition from early to mature Cezanne painting.

DISAPPEARED–Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius Violin

In October 1995, it was reported that a $3 million Stradivarius violin had been stolen from the New York City apartment of Erica Morini, a noted concert violinist. Made in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari, the violin is known as the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius.

YANKED–Two Van Goghs

In December 2002, two thieves used a ladder to climb to the roof and break into the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In just a few minutes the thieves stole two paintings: Van Gogh’s View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, valued at $30 million.

Dutch police convicted two men in December 2003, but did not recover the paintings.

LOOTED–Iraqi Artifacts

In March/April 2003, Iraqi cultural institutions and archaeological sites suffered major losses of priceless historical artifacts. Looting from archaeological sites continues on a massive scale.

A number of artifacts stolen from the Iraq National Museum have been returned, but between 7,000-10,000 remain missing. Among the missing are the diorite statue of Entemena and almost 5,000 cylinder seals. In February 2005, the FBI recovered and repatriated eight cylinder seals taken from archaeological sites in Iraq.

On July 25, 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the recovery of the statue of King Entemena of Lagash, one of the most significant pieces looted from the Iraq Museum in 2003. It was returned to the Government of Iraq at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

TAKEN–Caravaggio Nativity

In October 1969, two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy and removed the Caravaggio Nativity from its frame. Experts estimate its value at $20 million.


10 Impressive Art Heists

When three men walked into the E.G. Bürle Foundation museum in Zurich, Switzerland, on Feb. 12, 2008, the masterpieces didn't stand a chance. In broad daylight, one man pulled a gun while the other two grabbed the four paintings closest to the door. It seems to be pure luck that they grabbed the most valuable piece in the museum's collection, Paul Cézanne's "Boy in the Red Waistcoat," [source: Associated Press]. The thieves got out within minutes, leaving stunned museum patrons and staffers lying face-down on the floor.

The four paintings together are worth approximately $163 million, making it one of the biggest art thefts ever in Europe -- and Europe has seen its share of art theft [source: Associated Press]. Two weeks before the Bürle heist, two Picassos were stolen from another museum nearby. Thieves grabbed 20 paintings from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in 1991 and a couple more in 2002. The Louvre in Paris lost the "Mona Lisa" in 1911. And "The Scream" was taken from Oslo museums twice in 10 years. Despite the threat of jail time and the unmistakable (read: unsellable) fame of the stolen goods, art theft has become more common in the last couple of decades, perhaps due to a combination of underfunded security and rising art prices.

The 2008 Bürle robbery proves that security doesn't mean much when thieves are willing to use force. Art heists are increasingly conducted at gunpoint -- a brute means of ensuring that they get what they came for. But the most impressive art heists are the ones in which the criminals rely on something more than physical threats. We'll look at 10 of those in this article, starting with one that begs the age-old question: How many thieves does it take to dig a tunnel into a museum?

10: The National Fine Arts Museum in Paraguay, 2002

In July 2002, Paraguay hosted the most valuable art exhibition in its history. Then a group of criminals broke in and stole five paintings.

As it turns out, the break-in had been in the making for months. An unidentified man rented a store 80 feet (25 meters) from the National Fine Arts Museum in Asuncion. Authorities believe he then recruited people to help him dig a tunnel 10 feet (3 meters) underground, running from the shop to the museum. After the presumed two months it took to complete the tunnel, the thieves used it to enter the museum undetected on July 30, 2002.

The thieves left with more than a million dollars' worth of art. The stolen works included "Self Portrait" by Esteban Murillo, "The Virgin Mary and Jesus" by Gustave Coubert and Adolphe Piot's "Landscape." As of early 2012, the paintings were still missing [source: Associated Press].

The next heist on our list has an equally impressive plan but a happier ending.

9: The Swedish National Museum, 2000

The gang who robbed the National Museum in Sweden in December 2000 knew their stuff: A machine gun will get you the haul, a bomb will distract police, and cars with flat tires can't respond to an alarm.

Their distraction tactics were superb. While three men were inside the museum, accomplices set off two car bombs on the opposite ends of town. Local police scattered. At the same time, other accomplices were laying spikes on the roads around the museum. While one man stood inside the museum with a gun, two others located the targeted paintings.

They were in an out in a half hour, leaving with two Renoirs, "Young Parisian" and "Conversation with the Gardner," and a self-portrait by Rembrandt. The paintings were valued at $30 million combined. The getaway vehicle was a speedboat (the museum is on the waterfront).

Despite the slickness of the heist, less than two weeks later police had arrested eight men, all of whom were convicted and served jail time. One of the accomplices was a criminal lawyer brought in to negotiate the ransom.

However, the works didn't start reappearing until several years later. During a drug raid in 2001, Swedish narcotics police stumbled upon "Conversation with the Gardener" [source: BBC]. In 2005, Danish police recovered the Rembrandt self-portrait during an attempted sale in Copenhagen [source: BBC]. The FBI lists "Young Parisian" as also having been recovered [source: FBI].

Clearly, any theft is made easier when the thieves are armed. But what about thieves who use costume-shop props?

8: The Isabella Gardner Museum, 1990

With the help of goofy fake mustaches, two men managed to steal between $200 million and $300 million in paintings from Boston's Isabella Gardner Museum. At around 1:30 a.m. on March 18, 1990, thieves knocked on the museum's door. The museum guards on duty looked out and saw what appeared to be two police officers -- both with big black mustaches that they would later recall as being laughable. The mustached officers said they were there to check out a reported disturbance. The guards let them in to look around.

Within minutes, the guards found themselves bound, and the thieves spent the next hour or so gathering three Rembrandts, five Degas sketches, a Vermeer, a Manet and a bronze eagle that topped a framed Napoleon-era banner. An alarm went off while they were tearing one of the Rembrandts from its frame, but they located the source and smashed it silent. The police never showed up because it was simply an internal alarm meant to tell guards when people were getting too close to the art [source: Kurkjian]. Finally, the thieves told the guards that the museum would be "hearing from" them, presumably with a ransom demand, and loaded their getaway car in two trips [source: Bell].

But the museum never received a ransom demand. As of 2012, the thieves are still at large, none of the works have been recovered and the FBI continues to investigate the crime. The district attorney of Boston has even promised not to prosecute whoever returns the works [source: Kurkjian]. The museum has offered a $5 million reward [source: Associated Press]. On March 18, 2013, the FBI announced major developments in the case, including identification of the perpetrators, and launched a public campaign to search for information about the missing artwork.

While the Gardener Museum is the site of the biggest heist in history, it wasn't the heist of the biggest work of art.

7: The Henry Moore Foundation, 2005

If it's about 12 feet (3.6 meters) long, 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall, 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide and weighs over 2 tons (1,814 kilograms), is it worth the trouble to steal? That's a question that three men must have asked themselves after targeting a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore, "Reclining Figure," for a potential heist. Of course, thievery involving such massive dimensions would require the use of a construction foreman's tools. Armed with a crane-equipped Mercedes flatbed truck and a Mini Cooper, these crooks had the tools for the take [source: BBC].

In December 2005, the two vehicles rolled into the Henry Moore Foundation courtyard at night, loaded the hippopotamus-sized sculpture onto the flatbed truck and drove away. The entire job took 10 minutes [source: Telegraph].

Thought to be worth about $4.6 million, it is likely that the sculpture was cut up, shipped abroad and melted down for only about $2,300 worth of scrap metal [source: Townsend and Davies]. Charles Hill, currently a private art detective in Scotland, believes the bronze piece was stolen by a group of traveling criminals. It's likely that the metal was shipped to Rotterdam and then to China to be used for electrical parts. No arrests have been made.

On the next page, we'll share the story of a masterful heist in which nothing of value was stolen but 15 thieves were convicted.

Criminals going for broke in a big heist is time-tested movie material. "The Thomas Crown Affair" first hit the theaters in 1968, and apart from stars Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, it was actually the subject matter -- a high-stakes, high-dollar heist with a clever twist -- that captivated audiences. Add a priceless work of art to the mix, as occurs in the 1999 "Thomas Crown Affair" remake, "Oceans Twelve" and "Entrapment," and heist flicks take on even more glitz and allure. From a film producer's perspective, bagging a Monet or a Rembrandt is valuable indeed.

6: A New York Art Warehouse, 1987

Sometimes it's hard to sell fake artwork, so a London art dealer and a Manhattan antiques dealer came up with a plan to steal from themselves and still get paid. The antiques dealer, Nedjatollah Sakhai, hired a gang to rob a Queens warehouse filled with forged goods. The art dealer, Houshang Mahboubian, owned the warehouse and all of the tacky "treasures" inside. Afterward, Mahboubian planned to file a claim and collect $18 million from his insurers [source:Johnson].

But, like Mahboubian's failed attempts to sell the forged artworks in the first place, the planned robbery was a bust. After receiving a tip, police staked out the warehouse and waited for the would-be burglars to arrive.

Although convicted of conspiracy, burglary and attempted grand larceny, Sakhai and Mahboubian maintained their innocence. Later, the case file grew as 13 other defendants pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the case.

In contrast, the next heist on our list involved just one lone thief.

Many of the heists listed here remain unsolved, but some thefts have resulted in unique resolutions.The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, England, was robbed of three masterpieces in 2003: "Tahitian Landscape" by Gauguin, "Fortification of Paris with Houses" by VanGogh, and "Poverty" by Picasso. The theft went undetected by the museum's guards, security cameras and alarm system. But an anonymous tip led police to a public restroom the next day, where they found all three works stashed behind a toilet in a cardboard tube [source: Bell].

5: The Paris Museum of Modern Art, 2010

It reads like it's taken from a television episode or built for a blockbuster: On a Wednesday evening, a Paris museum was robbed of several priceless works by one thief without a single alarm being sounded. It may sound like fiction, but this actually happened in May 2010.

A thief cut through a gate padlock and broke a window, then robbed the Paris Museum of Modern Art of five paintings without setting off the alarms (which, as it turns out, weren't functioning at the time) or alerting the guards. The works, all considered priceless, included "Pastoral" by Henri Matisse, "Olive Tree near Estaque" by Georges Braque, "Woman with a Fan" by Amedeo Modigliani, "Still Life with Chandeliers" by Fernand Leger, and "Le pigeon aux petits-pois" by Pablo Picasso [source: Iverson].

For the works by Picasso and Matisse, it's just another routine switching of hands. The Art Loss Register lists 660 Picassos and 121 Matisses as having been reported stolen -- more than the work of any other artists [source: Haq].

From one standpoint, it's intriguing that the most recognizable artists represent the most pocketed paintings. The works' resale is nearly impossible, given the artists' fame and distinctive styles. Regardless, this particular heist remains unsolved, leaving the thief to admire his or her eye-catching spoils.

The thieves responsible for the next heist weren't so lucky. Read on to learn why appropriate accessories are as important in robberies as in any other social event.

4: The Van Gogh Museum, 2002

On the morning of Dec. 7, 2002, two men, one of whom was an international art thief known as "The Monkey" for his ability to elude police, climbed a ladder to access a window of the VanGogh Museum in Amsterdam. Although they did wear hats to disguise themselves, the thieves used little more than agility to steal two famous works.

In plain view of a busy park, they climbed the ladder to a window, broke the glass with their towel-wrapped elbows and, after only a few minutes, exited by sliding down a rope. They took with them "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" and "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen," which are worth about $10 million apiece.

"The Monkey," Dutch-born Octave Durham, lived up to his nickname. Although the two thieves were caught on the museum's security cameras, they avoided capture for two years. In 2004, police arrested Durham in Spain and his accomplice in Amsterdam, and later convicted them using DNA evidence from the hats found at the scene.

Neither painting has been recovered, and experts wonder whether the culprits behind the heist are smart enough to take advantage of an outdated Dutch law granting art thieves ownership of stolen items 20 or 30 years after the crime [source: Bell].

On the next page, learn about a $19-million heist that may have only been a cover-up for another crime.

They arrived with a .357-caliber Magnum pistol in hand and left with a pair of a great Norwegian artist's masterpieces. But the thieves who yanked Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "Madonna" off the walls of the Munch Museum in Norway had to ask where to go to find what was on their list. As nobody argued with their self-checkout firepower, they were pointed to the paintings and left the museum with an estimated $19-million haul [source: BBC].

Oddly, the two paintings spent about a month hidden in a racing tour bus. Thomas Nataas, a European drag racer, lives in the bus during race tours. An acquaintance asked him if he could store something on the bus, and although Nataas refused at first, under duress he agreed to secret away the two celebrated works. Later, the thieves transferred the paintings to another vehicle [source: Jones].

Iver Stensrud, a veteran detective leading the Munch investigation, believed the museum heist was organized to draw attention away from another robbery investigation, one that had led to the death of a senior police officer. In 2006, shortly after a conviction was made for this other robbery, the police received a tip. "The Scream" and "Madonna" were found, slightly damaged but intact, in the back of a van.

The series of robberies discussed on the next page don't fall strictly under the definition of heists, but they constitute by far the largest theft of artworks in the past century.

2: Nazi Art Thefts and the Monuments Men

Although it was more pillaging and plundering than sophisticated thievery, the German army confiscated and stored countless treasures as they fought through Europe during WWII. The thefts went beyond the cases of occupiers looting captured cities: Adolf Hitler and Herman Goering, his second in command, would choose artworks and cultural treasures for their collections and then simply take them [source: Braver].

A group of specialist soldiers from the United States military were assigned to search, safeguard and eventually return the artworks and other artifacts to their rightful owners. Called Monuments Men, they saved all sorts of stolen items from black market sale or unintentional destruction. Although some works, like Raphael's "Portrait of a Young Man," have eluded the Monuments Men and may never be recovered, there have been a number of major successes. In April 1949, for example, they proudly packed $80 million worth of paintings by Botticelli, Rubens, Rembrandt and many others into shipping crates and returned the works to Wiesbaden [source: Bailey].

In November 2007, a pair of photo albums cataloguing the priceless goods stolen from Paris art dealers during the war was unveiled in Washington. Originally found at Hitler's Bavarian mountain shelter and later forgotten in an attic with other wartime keepsakes by an American soldier, the leather-bound relics, numbered 6 and 8, were part of a Nazi catalogue of stolen artwork. Specialists who continue the work of the Monuments Men are hopeful that these albums will help in the continued hunt for stolen items [source:MacAskill].

The final heist on our list was much smaller -- just one 30-by-21-inch (77-by-53-centimeter) painting -- but the audacity of it made international headlines and changed the way the public looks at art.

In 2007, Steven Spielberg's staff called the FBI about a stolen artwork. It turns out that the famous director had unknowingly purchased a Norman Rockwell painting stolen from a Missouri museum in 1973. The FBI has allowed him to keep it until it can determine the rightful owner. In a more contentious situation, a family claims that a Van Gogh in actress Liz Taylor's collection was, in fact, stolen from its great-grandmother by the Nazis. A court ruled in 2007 that the Nazi confiscation could not be proven and that the family waited too long to claim the work.

In 1911, da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" was stolen from the Louvre museum in Paris in a theft that shocked the world and brought the painting to fame. On August 20, Vincenzo Perugia, a handyman in the museum, finished his shift and hid inside an art supply closet with two brothers, Vincenzo and Michele Lancelotti. After the museum closed, they carefully lifted the 200-pound, framed and glass-enclosed painting from the wall, stripped da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" out, hid the painting under a blanket and scurried off to catch a train out of Paris. The masterpiece disappeared for two years.

Museum staff didn't know the "Mona Lisa" was missing until the next day. When they saw the empty space on the wall, they assumed the painting had been removed as part of a project to photograph the Louvre's inventory. After a frequent patron asked a guard to query the photographers for their timeline, the museum staff realized the theft and called the police, but there were no clues at the scene [source: NPR].

Perugia was captured two years later. He claimed the theft was a patriotic attempt to return the painting to Italy, da Vinci's homeland. But he was caught trying to sell the painting to a dealer, who immediately called the police when he realized Perugia was indeed in possession of the highly publicized stolen painting, which had been known as a masterpiece only in select circles of the art world before its theft.

For more information on art heists and related topics, including how some thieves sell stolen works, look over the links below.


The 10 Biggest Jewel Heists In History

Did the Pink Panther gang strike again on the weekend? The international jewel thieves are thought to have escaped with $136m in gems from Cannes’ Carlton Intercontinental Hotel on Sunday – one of the largest diamond and jewellery heists ever seen.

We thought this was a good juncture to take a look at 10 of the top heists in recent memory:

10. December 2002, Museum of Science, The Hague — $12m

A science museum isn’t the first place you’d think of when considering a diamond heist, but it just so happened that The Museon, a museum of science in The Hague, Netherlands, was holding an exhibition entitled The Diamond – From Rough Stone to Gem.

The heist that took place is one of the most inexplicable of all time, with authorities still not entirely sure how thieves got away with $12m in diamonds and jewellery, including many pieces from royal collections.

The break-in occurred at some point over one weekend, with thieves smashing a window to gain entry, yet not being heard by guards or picked up by CCTV. They gained access to six of 28 alarmed cabinets in the main jewellery room and swiftly escaped.

The heist was not discovered until the following Tuesday, as the museum was closed on Monday and had no reason to suspect anything untoward.

9. March 2007, ABN Amro Bank, Antwerp — $28m

Sometime in 2006, a sweet grey-haired gentleman going by the name of Carlos Hector Flomenbaum began visiting the ABN Amro bank in Antwerp’s famous diamond district. He became close friends with the bank staff, billing himself as a prosperous businessman and plying them with all manner of luxury gifts and chocolate.

The gullible staff were soon suckered in by this elaborate ruse — after all, who could suspect an innocent old man with an American accent and Argentinean passport, with an increasing desire to befriend the entire workforce?

“Flomenbaum” eventually gained a key to the bank’s vaults and simply helped himself, emptying five boxes of uncut diamonds and walking away with $28m. It was later discovered, unsurprisingly, that his passport was stolen.

8. February 2008, Damiani showroom, Milan — $32m

Police ignored the complaints about a loud drilling noise from a woman living next door to the Damiani jewellery boutique in Italy’s glamorous Milan — but they soon wished they hadn’t.

A ring of thieves had been drilling a tunnel into the jeweller’s basement for months. Staff were preparing for a private showing on the morning of the break-in, meaning that the store was conveniently clear of customers.

The thieves tied up the staff and easily slipped away with an estimated $32m-worth of fine jewellery. However, their haul could have been bigger — many of the top pieces were on loan to celebrities attending the Oscars at the time.

7. February 2013, Brussels Airport — $50m

One of the most brazen heists on the list.

Eight masked gunmen dressed as police officers simply cut a hole in the airport fence and drove up to an aeroplane that was being loaded with $50m of precious stones bound for Zurich. Stopping the plane, they casually loaded 130 bags into their van and car and drove off.

Since then, more than 30 suspects have been rounded up in three countries, and a small portion of the stolen gems have been recovered.

6. 1994, Carlton Hotel, Cannes — $60m

It seems that the Carlton Hotel in Cannes really needs to step-up its security. Not only was it the victim of the attack this weekend, but it was hit by the same gang, known as the Pink Panthers, in 1994.

This was a bluntly executed operation, with three masked men simply waltzing into the store at closing time and opening fire with their machine guns. Peppering the place, they walked out with $60m of assorted diamonds and jewellery.

It was later discovered — due to an absence of bullet holes — that the men had been firing blanks. How very kind of them…

5. 2009, Graff Diamonds, London — $65m

This is probably the largest diamond heist in British history, and another attributed to the Pink Panthers, suspected to predominately be formed of former soldiers from Serbia.

Two men from the gang arrived at London’s Graff Diamonds store dressed in sharp suits. Concealing handguns, they bagged 43 of the store’s top items.

The thieves failed to hide their faces from CCTV, but that was of little consequence. They had visited a professional make-up artist prior to the robbery, who fitted them with a range of identity concealing prosthetics.

However, the hapless criminals left a mobile phone in their getaway car, and were soon identified as Solomon Beyene and Craig Calderwood.

4. December 2008, Harry Winston store, Paris — $107m

The Pink Panthers once more? In December 2008, four men dressed (somewhat unconvincingly) as women walked into the renowned Harry Winston store in Paris, just down the road from the local police station.

Immediately jumping into action, they threatened the staff — whom they referred to by their first names — with handguns. They each knew the location of all the store’s secret safes and, within 20 minutes, were on their way with roughly $107m of jewellery and diamonds, never to be seen again.

3. February 2003, Antwerp Diamond Centre — $118m

However, in February 2003, 123 of the 160 deposit boxes were emptied and discovered strewn across the floor.

The clever plan had been four years in the making, with the perpetrators renting office space across the road to learn the complex alarm system and how to bypass it. They also obtained keys to the vault and recorded over security tapes, leaving more than a little hint that this may have been an inside job.

However, some members of the group, which includes characters such as the “King of Thieves” and another called the “Magician with the Keys,” aren’t as competent at their jobs as they might be — one thief left behind a half-eaten sandwich, resulting in most of the members going to jail.

2. July 2013, Carlton Hotel, Cannes — $136m

That’s right, the heist that took place at the unfortunate Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes over the weekend (July 28) was perhaps the largest ever seen. And what’s more, it was the work of just one individual.

A man wearing a cap and bandana walked into the hotel’s ground-floor exhibition room brandishing a pistol, and soon walked out with a suitcase containing roughly $136m in diamonds belonging to Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

Coincidentally, the Carlton Hotel is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 jewellery heist film “To Catch a Thief.”

Police apparently suspect a Bosnian called Milan Poparic, who recently made a daring escape from prison after members of the Pink Panther gang rammed the front gate of his Swiss prison and opened fire on guards, allowing him to slip away.

1. 2000, Millennium Dome, London – $700m (almost)

Ok, so this one was never fully realised due to the diligence of the British police, but it has to top our list, not only for the value of the gems involved, but also for the sheer James Bond-esque style with which it was (nearly) carried out.

Wearing gas masks and using an array of equipment, including a JCB earth digger, thieves broke into London’s recently opened Millennium Dome, attempting to steal the world-famous Millennium Star diamond (weighing 203 carats) and 12 blue diamonds, all of which were owned by De Beers.

They threw tear gas canisters in the entrance to prevent anyone entering the building, but the police were already inside. They had been tipped off prior to the robbery and were dressed as cleaning crew, ready to pounce once the robbers had done enough to incriminate themselves.

Yet, the thieves would have been sorely disappointed even if they had escaped with the shiny objects they sought. All of the gems had been replaced with fakes to ensure that their plan was well and truly foiled.


View of Auvers-sur-Oise by Paul Cézanne, 2000

While the city of Oxford was preparing to celebrate the turn of the millennium, two thieves were plotting to steal artwork from one of its most prestigious museums. During the New Year celebrations on January 1 2000, thieves cut a hole in a skylight at the Ashmolean Museum, shimmied down a rope into the galleries, dropped a smoke bomb to cover CCTV cameras and stole View of Auvers-sur-Oise, a £3 million painting by Post Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. The painting has never been recovered.


The 5 Best Museum Heists in History

I n honor of International Museum Day, we collected the five best museum heists in history. Just thank your lucky stars you weren’t a museum director during any of these thefts.

1) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, The United States: On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston Police officers demanded entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They told the guard on patrol that they were responding to a disturbance, then drew him away from the alarm button and asked him to call his partner. The thieves then handcuffed both of them and threw them in the basement, where they duct-taped their hands and feet to pipes.

The bandits then stole around $500 million worth of priceless art, the largest art heist in history. Priceless works like Vermeer’s The Concert, Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Manet’s Chez Tortoni were taken, never to be found again. Empty frames currently hang in some rooms of the Gardner museum where the paintings originally hung, and tourists visit to see the scene of the crime.

2) The Stockholm Museum, Sweden: Armed burglars stole $30 million worth of art by Renoir and Rembrandt from the Stockholm Museum on December 22, 2000. They staged two car explosions nearby to distract police, then a gunman with a semiautomatic terrorized the museum while his accomplishes grabbed a Rembrandt self-portrait and two Renoirs. Then the thieves escaped in a small boat.

3) The Kunstahl Museum, The Netherlands: Romanian gang members stole seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Gaugin and Monet in under three minutes from the Kunhstahl Museum in Rotterdam on October 16, 2012. The thieves got away with the artworks, worth more than $24 million, even though they tripped the small museum’s alarm system — probably because the small museum had no guards.

Last year, the mother of one of the alleged thieves claimed to have burned the paintings, perhaps to protect her son from prosecution. Olga Dogaru’s son was the alleged ringleader of the heist, and his and his accomplices had already been arrested. Dogaru first buried the paintings in different locations, then burned them so the police could never find them. The two thieves have been sentenced to 6-8 years in prison.

4) National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico: Robbers stole 140 precious objects from Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve, 1985, in the largest heist of pre-Colombian objects in history. The bandits picked a sleepy time when they knew the guards would be distracted by holiday cheer, and grabbed several gold, turquoise, and jade objects, as well as an obsidian monkey-shaped-vase worth over $20 million. Most of the stolen objects were very small and easy to transport, making them especially difficult to track down.

5) The Louvre, France: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is now the most famous painting in the Louvre, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, getting stolen might have been the best thing that ever happened to this tiny Renaissance portrait. On August 21, 1911, three Italian handymen hid in a supply closet overnight in order to sneak into the museum and steal the Mona Lisa. One of them, Vincenzo Perugia, was the man who had installed the protective glass over the Mona Lisa in the first place. The theft was all over the French newspapers, since many people feared that German or American businessmen were buying up all the good art from their museums. The painting became so famous that he couldn’t sell it without getting caught. So he hid it in the false bottom of his trunk until over two years later, when he finally tried to sell the painting. Of course, the police showed up, Perugia was arrested, and the painting was returned, more famous than ever.