Art theft

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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was robbed in 1990 with the paintings and items stolen valued at over $500 million. ISGardnerMuseum.JPG
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was robbed in 1990 with the paintings and items stolen valued at over $500 million.

Art theft is usually for the purpose of resale or for ransom (sometimes called artnapping). Stolen art is sometimes used by criminals as collateral to secure loans. [1] Only a small percentage of stolen art is recovered—estimates range from 5 to 10%. This means that little is known about the scope and characteristics of art theft.

Ransom practice of holding a prisoner or item to extort money or property

Ransom is the practice of holding a prisoner or item to extort money or property to secure their release, or it may refer to the sum of money involved.

In lending agreements, collateral is a borrower's pledge of specific property to a lender, to secure repayment of a loan. The collateral serves as a lender's protection against a borrower's default and so can be used to offset the loan if the borrower fails to pay the principal and interest satisfactorily under the terms of the lending agreement.


Individual theft

Many thieves are motivated by the fact that valuable art pieces are worth millions of dollars and weigh only a few kilograms at most. Transport for items such as paintings is also trivial, assuming the thief is willing to inflict some damage to the painting by cutting it off the frame and rolling it up into a tube carrier.[ citation needed ] Also, while most high-profile museums have extremely tight security, many places with multimillion-dollar art collections have disproportionately poor security measures. [2] 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. [3]

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. [3]

Sting operation deceptive operation to catch a person committing a crime

In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have an undercover law enforcement officer, detective, or co-operative member of the public play a role as criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect's actions to gather evidence of the suspect's wrongdoing. Mass media journalists occasionally resort to sting operations to record video and broadcast to expose criminal activity.

Jean-Baptiste Oudry's The White Duck, which was stolen in 1990 Cholmondeley Oudry White Duck.jpg
Jean-Baptiste Oudry's The White Duck, which was stolen in 1990

For those with substantial collections, such as the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, the risk of theft is neither negligible nor negotiable. [4] Jean-Baptiste Oudry's White Duck was stolen from the Cholmondeley collection at Houghton Hall in 1990. The canvas is still missing. [5]

David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley British noble

David George Philip Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, ( CHUM-lee); born 27 June 1960), styled Viscount Malpas from birth until 1968, and subsequently Earl of Rocksavage until 1990, is a British peer and filmmaker. He also acts as Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom, a role he is entitled to hold for the duration of present Queen's reign.

Houghton Hall country house in Norfolk, England

Houghton Hall is a country house in the parish of Houghton in Norfolk, England. It is the residence of David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley.

Jean-Baptiste Oudry 18th-century French Rococo painter

Jean-Baptiste Oudry was a French Rococo painter, engraver, and tapestry designer. He is particularly well known for his naturalistic pictures of animals and his hunt pieces depicting game.

Prevention in museums

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. [6]

Art theft education

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 crime.

A think tank, think factory or policy institute is a research institute/center and organization which performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Most policy institutes are non-profit organisations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. Other think tanks are funded by governments, advocacy groups, or corporations, and derive revenue from consulting or research work related to their projects.

Art forgery

Art forgery is the creating and selling of works of art which are falsely credited to other, usually more famous artists. Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler.

Vandalism deliberate damage or defacement of an object or structure

Vandalism is the action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property.


In the public sphere, Interpol, the FBI Art Crime Team, London's Metropolitan Police, New York Police Department's special frauds squad [7] 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. [6]

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. [8]

State theft, wartime looting and misappropriation by museums

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. [9] With an estimated value of $1 billion, their discovery is considered "astounding", [10] and includes works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Max Beckmann and Emil Nolde, all of which were considered lost. [11]

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. [12] Descendants of Jewish collectors who were robbed of their works by the Nazis may be able to claim ownership of many of the works. [11] 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 Greece to the British Museum in 1816 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin. Many different Greek governments have maintained that removal was tantamount to theft. [13]

Similar controversies have arisen over Etruscan, Aztec, and Italian artworks, with advocates of the originating countries generally alleging that the removal of artifacts is a pernicious form of cultural imperialism. 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. [14]

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 (art thief) 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 various museums, galleries, archives and shops from around the world. While not the largest art heist in total dollar value, Tillmann's case may be the largest art heist ever, in number of objects stolen.

Famous cases of art theft

Case of art theftDatesNotesReferences
Louvre August 21, 1911

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.

Panels from the Ghent Altarpiece 1934Two panels of the fifteenth century Ghent Altarpiece , painted by the brothers Jan and Hubert Van Eyck were stolen in 1934, of which only one was recovered shortly after the theft. The other one (lower left of the opened altarpiece, known as De Rechtvaardige Rechters i.e. The Just Judges ), has never been recovered, as the presumable thief (Arsène Goedertier), who had sent some anonymous letters asking for ransom, died before revealing the whereabouts of the painting.
Nazi theft and looting of Europe during the Second World War 1939–1945

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.

Quedlinburg medieval artifacts 1945

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

Returning 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.

Alfred Stieglitz Gallery1946

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.

Dulwich College Picture GalleryDecember 30, 1966

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.

University of Michigan 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.

Izmir Archaeology MuseumJuly 24, 1969

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.

Stephen Hahn Art GalleryNovember 17, 1969

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.

1972 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts robbery September 4, 1972

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 1974–2002

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.

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.

Kanakria mosaics and the looting of Cypriot Orthodox Churches following the invasion of Cyprus 1974

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". [17] 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 USA 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.

[18] [19]
Picasso works in the Palais des Papes January 31, 1976

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.

[20] [21] [22]
L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art April 15, 1983

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.

[23] [23] [24]
Musée Marmottan Monet October 28, 1985

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. [25] The paintings were later recovered in Corsica in 1990. [26]

University of Arizona Museum of Art November 27, 1985A couple who arrived at the museum shortly before it opened for the day left ten minutes later. Guards found shortly afterwards that Willem de Kooning's Woman-Ochre had been cut from its frame; sketches were made of the couple but the investigation was unable to make any progress until 2017, when a New Mexico antique dealer found the painting in the home of a recently-deceased woman for whom he had been contracted to hold an estate sale. After his customers told him the painting was likely a de Kooning, he found that it had been stolen in 1987 during an Internet search. He contacted the museum, which sent staff the next day to pick it up. [27]
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum March 18, 1990

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.

The Scream
(National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design)
February 12, 1994

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.

Kunsthalle Schirn July 28, 1994

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.

Mather Brown's Thomas JeffersonJuly 28, 1994

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.

Sofia Imber Museum of Contemporary Art (MACCSI)1999-2000

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.

Cooperman Art Theft hoax1999

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.

Vjeran TomicFall, 2000In France, using a crossbow, ropes, and a caribiner, Tomic broke into an apartment and stole two Renoirs, a Derain, an Utrillo, a Braque, and various other works worth more than a million euros. [28]
Nationalmuseum December 22, 2000

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 2001

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.

Van Gogh Museum December 8, 2002

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.

[31] [32] [33] [34]
The Scream and Madonna
(Munch Museum)
August 22, 2004

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.

[35] [36]
Munch paintings theft in NorwayMarch 6, 2005

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

Kunsthistorisches Museum May 11, 2003

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.

Henry Moore Foundation Perry Green December 15, 2005

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.

Museu da Chácara do CéuFebruary 24, 2006

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.

São Paulo Museum of Art December 20, 2007

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, [40] 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. [41] [42]

Foundation E.G. Bührle February 11, 2008

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.

[43] [44]
Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo June 12, 2008

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 was discovered in the house of one of thieves and recovered by police in same city.


[46] [47] [48]

Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris May 10, 2010

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 euros ($123 million). The thief was eventually found to be Vjeran Tomic.

[49] [50] [28]
Venus Over ManhattanJune 19, 2012

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.

[51] [52]
Dulwich Park December 19–20, 2012A cast of Barbara Hepworth's (5/6) Two Forms (Divided Circle) was displayed in Dulwich Park from 1970 until it was cut from it plinth by scrap metal thieves in December 2011. It was insured for £500,000, but its scrap value was estimated at perhaps £750. Southwark Council offered a reward of £1,000, and the Hepworth Estate increased the reward to £5,000, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves. [53] [54] [55] [56] [57]
Kunsthal October 16, 2012

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.

John Tillmann (art thief) January 18, 2013

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 a mammoth one 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 over the world 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, medieval Knight suits of armour and even a 5,000 year old Egyptian mummy. A university graduate, he was also known to be an avid history buff.


[60] [61] [62] [63] [64] [65] [66] [67] [68] [69] [70] [71]

Sripuranthan Chola IdolsJanuary, 2006

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 USD 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.

[72] [73] [74] [75] [76] [77] [78]
Francis Bacon art in Madrid June 2015, made public in March 2016Five paintings –said to be of medium-to-small size and worth a combined estimated €30m– by British artist Francis Bacon were stolen from the Madrid home of their owner during his absence in what has been defined as the largest contemporary art heist in recent Spanish history. The owner is the last known love interest of the painter, from whom he had inherited the paintings. The art thieves left no fingerprints and managed to get away with the works without setting off any alarms or raising any eyebrows in one of the city’s safest and most heavily monitored districts.

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.

[79] [80] [81] [82] [83] [84] [85]

Notable unrecovered works

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

Fictional art theft

Genres such as crime fiction often portray fictional art thefts as glamorous or exciting raising generations of admirers. Most of these sources add adventurous, even heroic element to the theft, portraying it as an achievement. In literature, a niche of the mystery genre is devoted to art theft and forgery. In film, a caper story usually features complicated heist plots and visually exciting getaway scenes. In many of these movies, the stolen art piece is a MacGuffin. [86]




See also

Related Research Articles

Van Gogh Museum Art museum, National museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Van Gogh Museum is one of the many art museums in the Netherlands dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Van Gogh House can be visited in Zundert, a museum in Van Gogh's old residence. In the city of Tilburg, the old drawing room of Vincent van Gogh has been reconstructed. In the Van Gogh Town Nuenen you can see many monuments that Vincent van Gogh painted. The Vincetre is also located in Nuenen, a Museum about the life of Van Gogh.

<i>The Scream</i> related works by Edvard Munch

The Scream is the popular name given to a composition created by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch in 1893. The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur, and the Norwegian title is Skrik (Shriek). The agonised face in the painting has become one of the most iconic images of art, seen as symbolising the anxiety of modern man.

A gentleman thief, gentleman burglar, lady thief, or phantom thief is a stock character in fiction. A gentleman or lady thief usually has inherited wealth and is characterised by impeccable manners, charm, courteousness, and the avoidance of physical force or intimidation to steal. As such, they steal not only to gain material wealth but also for the thrill of the act itself, which is often combined in fiction with correcting a moral wrong, selecting wealthy targets, or stealing only particular rare or challenging objects.

Vincenzo Peruggia Italian thief

Vincenzo Peruggia was an Italian thief, most famous for stealing the Mona Lisa on 21 August 1911. Born in Dumenza, Varese, Italy, he died in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France.

Stéphane Breitwieser French art thief

Stéphane Breitwieser is a Frenchman notorious for his art thefts between 1995 and 2001. He admitted to stealing 239 artworks and other exhibits from 172 museums while travelling around Europe and working as a waiter, an average of one theft every 15 days. The Guardian called him "arguably the world's most consistent art thief."

Metal theft theft of items for the value of their constituent metals

Metal theft is "the theft of items for the value of their constituent metals". It usually increases when worldwide prices for scrap metal rise, as has happened dramatically due to rapid industrialization in India and China. Apart from precious metals like gold and silver, the metals most commonly stolen are non-ferrous metals such as copper, aluminium, brass, and bronze. However, even cast iron and steel are seeing higher rates of theft due to increased scrap metal prices.

Fence (criminal) criminal who resells stolen goods

A fence, also known as a receiver, mover, or moving man, is an individual who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to later resell them for profit. The fence acts as a middleman between thieves and the eventual buyers of stolen goods who may not be aware that the goods are stolen. As a verb, the word describes the behaviour of the thief in the transaction: The burglar fenced the stolen radio. This sense of the term came from thieves' slang, first attested c. 1700, from the notion of such transactions providing a defence against being caught. The term remains in common use in all major dialects of modern English, all of which spell it with a "c" even though the source word in some dialects is now spelled defense.

<i>Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence</i> painting by Caravaggio

The Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence is a painting traditionally believed to have been created in 1609 by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio. Recent discoveries link the painting to that commissioned by Fabio Nuti in April 1600, and thus sent from Rome to Palermo.

Kunsthal Art museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands

The Kunsthal is an art museum in Rotterdam. It opened in 1992.

Musée dArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris Art museum in Paris, France

Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris or MAMVP, is a major municipal museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is located at 11, Avenue du Président Wilson in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

<i>The Storm on the Sea of Galilee</i> stolen painting by Rembrandt

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is a 1633 painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt van Rijn. It was previously in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, but was stolen in 1990 and remains missing. The painting depicts the miracle of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, specifically as it is described in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It is Rembrandt's only seascape.

Robert King "Bob" Wittman was a highly decorated Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent who was assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division from 1988 to 2008. As a result of specialized training in art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification, Wittman served as the FBI's "top investigator and coordinator in cases involving art theft and art fraud". During his 20 years with the FBI, Wittman helped recover more than $300 million worth of stolen art and cultural property, resulting in the prosecution and conviction of numerous individuals. In 2005, he was instrumental in the creation of the FBI's rapid deployment Art Crime Team (ACT). He was named the ACT's senior investigator and was responsible for instructing the newly formed team. He also was instrumental in the recovery of colonial North Carolina's copy of the original Bill of Rights in 2005, after it was stolen by a Union soldier in 1865. Wittman represented the United States around the world, conducting investigations and instructing international police and museums in recovery and security techniques. After his 20 years with the FBI working against art theft, he continues to use his expertise as an art security consultant for the private sector. In 2010 Wittman published his memoir Priceless which recounts his career and activities while working for the FBI as an undercover agent.

<i>Le pigeon aux petits pois</i> painting by Pablo Picasso

Les pigeon aux petit pois is a 1911 painting by Pablo Picasso. It was one of five paintings stolen from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris on 20 May 2010, which together are worth about €100 million.

Theft from libraries is the crime of stealing books, DVDs or other media from libraries. It is typically prevented by installing electronic article surveillance alarms at the doors. Library materials are tagged and if the tag is not deactivated it sounds an alarm. In some libraries with older or rare materials, readers are not allowed to take coats or bags into the reading area except for a few items in a clear plastic bag. Security cameras are not commonly used in libraries for privacy reasons.

Theft of <i>The Weeping Woman</i> from the National Gallery of Victoria

The theft of The Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria took place on 2 August 1986 in Melbourne, Australia. The stolen work was one of a series of paintings by Pablo Picasso all known as The Weeping Woman and had been purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria for A$1.6 million in 1985—at the time the highest price paid by an Australian art gallery for an artwork. A group calling itself "Australian Cultural Terrorists" claimed responsibility, making a number of demands in letters to the then Victorian Minister for the Arts, Race Mathews. The demands included increases to funding for the arts; threats were made that the painting would be destroyed. After an anonymous tip-off to police, the painting was found undamaged in a locker at Spencer Street station on 19 August 1986. The theft still remains unsolved.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft 1990 art theft in Boston

On March 18, 1990, 13 works of art valued at a combined total of $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In the early hours, guards admitted two men posing as police officers responding to a disturbance call. Once inside, the thieves tied up the guards and over the next hour committed the largest-value recorded theft of private property in history. Despite efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and multiple probes around the world, no arrests have been made and no works have been recovered. The museum initially offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to the art's recovery, but in 2017 this was temporarily doubled to $10 million, with an expiration date set to the end of the year. This was extended into 2018 following helpful tips from the public.

John Tillmann

John Mark Tillmann was a Canadian art thief and white supremacist who for over two decades stole over 10,000 antiques and art objects from museums, galleries, archives and antique shops mainly in Atlantic Canada.

1972 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts robbery Highest-value theft in Canadian history

The 1972 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts robbery, sometimes called the Skylight Caper, took place very early in the morning of September 4 of that year. Three armed robbers used a skylight under repair to gain entry to the museum from its roof, tied up the three guards on duty, and left on foot with 18 paintings, including a rare Rembrandt landscape and works by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Corot, Delacroix, Rubens, and Thomas Gainsborough, as well as some figurines and jewellery. One of the Brueghels was returned by the thieves as an initiative to start ransom negotiations. None of the other paintings has ever been recovered and the robbers have never been arrested or even publicly identified, although there is at least one informal suspect.

<i>Still Life with Candlestick</i> painting by Fernand Léger

Still Life with Candlestick is an oil painting created in 1922 by the French artist Fernand Léger.


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