Mona Lisa, Paris, 1911 - It was called the biggest art heist in history - Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Mona Lisa became the most famous painting in the world on August 20th 1911 when Italian workman Vincenzo Peruggia took the Mona Lisa from the wall of the Louvre while he was alone in the room and walked out with it under his clothing. He allegedly claimed that he stole the painting so he could restore it to its proper home, Italy. The theft instantly became a worldwide sensation, with countless theories and rumors concerning the Mona Lisa's location and the identity of the culprit. Some were outrageous - one of the rumors even involved the world-famous painter Pablo Picasso who was alleged to have unwittingly purchased stolen merchandise from a friend. It was believed that he might have also bought the stolen Mona Lisa. It was missing for two years - but the French public queued in their thousands to see the empty space on the wall and the Mona Lisa's fame was assured.
|Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of Mona Lisa |
National Gallery, London, 1961 - Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington was in the news after the UK government attempted to stop it being bought by a foreign collector. Its high profile made it an attractive target and an unemployed driver, Kempton Bunton, admitted to the theft, saying that he entered the National Gallery through an open window and left with the painting under his arm. He said he wanted to use the money to buy TV licenses for the poor. He served three months in jail. However, papers released by the National Gallery in 1996 revealed that he was probably innocent.
Russborough House, Ireland, 1975-2002 - Possibly the most burgled property in art history, a total of 45 paintings have been taken from this stately home in four raids between 1975 and 2002. Two paintings taken from the building last year had previously been stolen in 1986 and returned seven years later. The 2002 raid took place just days after two paintings taken from a past raid were recovered.
|Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington |
Boston, US, 1990 - The biggest heist in US history, the $300m haul - including works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Manet - is still missing. The paintings were taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18th 1990 when two men in police uniforms and fake mustaches turned up at the museum in the early hours, claiming to be responding to a disturbance in the grounds. They disabled the security guards, tying them to railings, as soon as they were let in. A $5m reward still awaits the person that finds the loot.
Amsterdam, 1991 - Two masked armed men took 20 paintings from Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum. They were worth at least $10m each at the time and included Van Gogh's most celebrated work, Sunflowers. Police said at least one of the men may have hidden in the museum on Saturday afternoon, overpowering two guards in the early hours of Sunday and forcing them to turn the alarms off. The paintings were found in the getaway car less than an hour after they escaped. Eleven years later, The Vincent Van Gogh Museum was robbed a second time in the early morning hours of December 7, 2002 and two paintings were stolen. The thieves were apprehended but the paintings still have not been recovered.
The Scream, Oslo, 1994 - The Scream has been stolen twice. The first time was in February 1994 - while most of Norway was watching the opening of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, two thieves broke into a gallery in nearby Oslo and took Edward Munch's most famous work. The alarm was activated, but it was ignored by the guard. The thieves were bold enough to leave a note reading: "Thanks for the poor security." A lengthy investigation eventually recovered the masterpiece after a piece of the frame was discovered at a deserted bus stop. A different version of the painting was stolen in August 2004 in a daring heist by masked men armed with a handgun. This time, neither the paintings nor the culprits have been found.
|Edward Munch, The Scream. |
National Gallery, Oslo.
Stockholm, Sweden, 2000 - In one of the most daring thefts, three masked armed robbers walked into Stockholm's National Museum as visitors were milling about, took a self-portrait by Rembrandt and two Renoir paintings (titled Young Parisian and Conversation with the Gardner) and ran out again. The three paintings were valued at a staggering $30 million and were uninsured. They escaped from the waterfront gallery by motorboat. Four months later, police stumbled upon one of the paintings during a drug investigation. Renoir's Conversation with the Gardner was recovered, but the other two remain missing.
Asuncion, Paraguay, 2002 - An 80-foot tunnel that may have taken two months to dig was discovered, starting under a shop and leading into the National Fine Arts museum in Asuncion, which at the time was hosting the most valuable exhibition in its history. A gang using false names had rented the shop and carried out the heist at night, taking £500,000 worth of art.
Scotland, 2003 - Madonna of the Yarnwinder, valued at between £25 and £50m, was stolen from the Duke of Buccleuch's home at Drumlanrig Castle in August 2003. The painting was stolen by two men who joined a public tour and overpowered a guide. Despite the offer of a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest of the thieves, the painting is still missing.
|Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna of the Yarnwinder |
Manchester, UK, 2003 - Three paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso and Gauguin worth £4m were stolen from the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester after thieves evaded CCTV cameras, alarms and 24-hour rolling patrols. But they were found the next day after receiving a tip from an anonymous caller, slightly damaged due to mishandling and weather exposure and crammed into a cardboard tube behind a public toilet just 200 yards from the museum. Luckily, the damage to the paintings was repairable and after just a few weeks they were returned to their places on the walls of the museum. A handwritten note was discovered by investigators, which read, "We did not intend to steal these paintings, just to highlight a breach in security."