5 Most High Profile Art Crimes


Not everyone in the art world has the same taste. Art is one of the most subjective creations of the human experience, and anything from your niece’s scribbles of kittens to that experimental band grinding away on their guitars can be dubbed art, yet there are those universally agreed upon pieces of art that have unquestionable value. What makes art worth thousands or millions of dollars? Art thieves don’t need to ask this question; they just understand that highly valued art means a pretty penny in their pocket (or for the eclectic collector, another addition to their library). Art appreciators of any variety cringe at the thought of beautiful and original masterpieces being stolen, mangled or, even worse, destroyed. Try not to wince too much at the list below, featuring 5 of the worst art crimes in history.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – 1972

Around 2 a.m. on September 4, 1972, three art thieves broke into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and committed the largest art heist in Canadian history. Among the 18 paintings looted were works by Delacroix, Gainsborough and Rembrandt, as well as some of the museum’s jewelry and figurines, a theft estimated to have been worth $2 million at the time and around $10 million today. Among the Rembrandt paintings stolen was a rare landscape valued at a hefty $1 million at the time, a figure that experts predict would have grown to $20 million today. The tragedy? None of these pieces have ever been recovered. The bright side? The thieves left behind an additional 20 paintings when they set off an alarm and had to flee.

Musee Marmottan Monet – 1985

In what was dubbed at the time as the “art theft of the century,” the Musee Marmotten in Paris, France suffered a loss of some of the most influential impressionist paintings ever created one harrowing day in October 1985. While most art heists occur under the cover of night, the five-masked gunman behind this scheme held a crowd of 50 security guards and museumgoers at gunpoint while they scoped and stole 9 paintings worth an estimated $12 million. Of these were paintings by Monet, Renoir and Morisot, the most significant of which was Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, the painting that gave the movement its name. Luckily, the paintings were recovered in 1990, leaving a serious mark on the thieves’ criminal records.

The Scream – 1994 and 2004

Hugely popular and reproduced a million times over for its elongated, surreal face of angst, Munch’s “the Scream” stands as a hallmark of greatness for art lovers and pop culture followers everywhere. Not just once, but twice, has this beacon of our culture been stolen, but luckily, twice has it also been recovered. The first theft took place in 1994 as two men broke into the National Gallery in London while the beginning of the Olympics distracted crowds. They left the note, “Thanks for the poor security,” but for all their sassiness, the $22 million painting was recovered two years after. A similar occurrence happened exactly one decade later as two men robbed the Munch Museum in Norway at gunpoint and walked outside with the painting in broad daylight. Again, the suspects were found two years after the dedicated search began, much to the relief of the Norwegian public. For both set of art thieves, their criminal arrest records won’t be able to recover from these art crimes. Still, it seems like this painting needs a little better security.

The Mona Lisa – 1911

What’s the most famous painting in the world? As to be expected, panic ensued the moment the Mona Lisa turned up missing from the Louvre in Paris, France in 1911. Considered by most to be the greatest portrait of all time, the Mona Lisa was missing for 26 hours before someone noticed – a considerable amount of time for this unmistakable $100 million original by Vincent van Gogh. Two years passed with a dark hole in the art world before the perpetrators were apprehended. Fortunately, the thief was caught and the painting replaced. Vincenzo Peruggia, the man behind the heist, said he stole the painting to return it to his native Italy, but conspiracy theories still abound to this day about what really happened and why the day the Mona Lisa disappeared.

Isabella Stewart Gardner – 1990

The largest art heist in recorded history took place one late March night in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, MA. Perhaps the cleverest art thieves ever born dressed up as police officers and convinced the security guard to let them in, saying they were responding to a call. Then they threatened the security guard with a warrant for his arrest, made him step away from the alarm button, call the other guard on duty, and from there, they tied up both security guards while leisurely rampaging the museum. They got away with $300 million of paintings and artifacts: among those stolen were works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Flinck, Degas and Manet. To this day, the art is still missing and the museum has put out a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the thieves and the recovery of the works.

Bonus: Worst Art Restoration Of All Time

Fresco depiction of Jesus – 2012

As a bonus art bloopers, the worst art restoration of all time happened last year in a church in northeastern Spain. An “ecce homo,” or “bound with thorns,” painting of Jesus Christ that had been painted centuries earlier by fresco artists had been disintegrating over the years. One day, 80-year old Cecilia Gimenez, a devout follower, decided to take it upon herself to restore the painting because she said it made her upset to see the paint flicking off. This woman was not a professional painter or art historian, and despite her good intentions, one glance at the “restored” painting says it all. She may have had a clear record before this, but she’ll now be going down in history for “the botched Jesus restoration.”


(Image Source: nytimes.com)

Tags: , , ,

Designed by WPZOOM