Art thieves are part cat burglar, part ninja, and all ballsy. It’s insane how many heists have been planned, executed, and how exceptionally incredible or terrible the burglars happen to be. Here are 10 of the most insane art heists in history.
1. The Missing “Mona Lisa”
As one of the most famous painting in the world, few know that she was once stolen by a very, very patriotic Italian man. On August 21, 1911, guards at the Louvre noticed the painting was absent. Being the geniuses that they are, they figured it was out for restoration. Little did they know, Vicenzo Peruggia, an old employee of the museum and the very creator of the security case for the painting, had run off with it. He was apprehended in December a whole two years later, after becoming a national hero in Italy for “bringing the painting home.” I guess the people praising him were as smart as the security guards, because the painting was actually created by Leonardo da Vinci in Paris.
2. The Swedish Blabber-Mouths
In December of 2000, a crew of masterminds pulled out all of the stops to raid the Stockholm National Museum. Three masked men robbed the inside, two accomplices set off car bombs to distract police on the other side of town, and another set of accomplices laid down spikes on the roads along the museum. One man armed with a machine gun held down the guards while two others stole $30 million worth of paintings including two Renoirs and a self-portrait by Rembrandt. Since then, all pieces have been recovered and within just two weeks, eight men were arrested. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
3. The Henry Moore Heist
Once upon a time in 2005, one of Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figures” was stolen. The job only took 10 minutes using just a flatbed truck and a mini cooper. Oh, did I mention that the sculpture was over 12 ft long, 6 ft tall, and weighed well over 2 tons? Though it was priced to be worth $4.6 million, it’s likely that the thieves cut up the sculpture and melted it down for only $2,300 worth of scrap. Not the brightest thieves, but maybe the bravest.
4. The Van Gogh Getaway
In 1991, two thieves managed to steal 20 paintings valued at over $10 million each, including one of Van Gogh’s most celebrated works, “Sun Flowers.” Amazingly, the art was recovered just a few hours later. The police found the culprits’ getaway car, but the burglars were long gone. In December of 2002, the museum was robbed a second time. Thieves climbed a ladder, broke a window, and made off with two paintings valued at over $3 million: “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” and “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.” Even though the alarm had been triggered immediately, the cat burglars got away.
5. The Munch Museum Marauders
Two masked thieves pulled “The Scream” and the “Madonna” off of the walls in the middle of the day. The getaway car was later recovered with only the picture frames with the paintings cut right out of them. The two paintings were estimated around $19 million. Both paintings were recovered in 2006, luckily only slightly damaged by the thieves.
6. The Duke of Buccleuch’s Home Invaders
In 2003, two men lifted Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna with the Yarnwinder” during a public tour of the home by overpowering the guard. It remained missing for four years until it was discovered straight up hanging in a Scottish law firm’s office. Lawyer jokes aside, I wonder if they helped in their own defense.
7. The Sao Paulo Swindlers
In December of 2007, three men broke into the museum in the early morning using only a crowbar and a carjack to force open the museums steel doors. They made off in under three minutes, but the pieces were located just a month later. The stole Picasso’s “Portrait of Suzanne Block” and Candido Portinari’s “O Lavrado de Cafe,” which are estimated at around $55 million. Let’s just hope they invested a little more in museum security, and by that I mean stronger doors.
8. The Russborough House Robbery
In May of 1986, a crew of 13 pulled off this huge art theft in Dublin in a mere six minutes, stealing 18 painting worth an estimated $50 million dollars. Cahill was never charged even though he was behind the whole thing and distributed all of the art across Europe. One of the Vermeer paintings was found after it was smuggled to Antwerp and used a collateral on a loan from a diamond dealer to buy drugs. Another painting by Garbriel Metsu was given in exchange for a drug shipment to Instanbul. Art thieves, drug smugglers, and diamond dealers, oh my!
9. The Schirn Kunsthalle Museum Stealers
In July of 1994, the Yugoslavian Mafia ordered thieves to hide in the museum overnight and steal three paintings worth more than $40 million. The thieves were caught quickly, but the masterminds were not, even when mobster, known only as “Stevo,” tried to sell one of the pieces to a friends in Marbella. Turns out money is power.
10. The Gardner Museum Gangsters
Boston socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner generously left her home and art collection to the city of Boston when she died in 1924, with the stipulation that her home remained arranged exactly as she left it. In 1990, 13 of her works of art, valued at more than $500 million dollars, were cut out their frames and stolen away into the night. Because of Isabella’s strict agreements, the empty frames from where the paintings were lifted still hang on the museum walls. Always hopeful, the museum is still hoping for the return of the art and provides instructions online for how to conserve the works, should the thieves need some pointers.