Five Audacious Art Thefts

By guest author Tony Gibbs

Over the years there have been many priceless pieces of art taken from their galleries. Some have been victims to the most organized planning and execution while other thefts have been far more open and direct. Here is a list of five audacious art thefts throughout history.

1. Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio  by Salvador Dali

In June 2012, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, a man walked into the Venus Over Manhattan Gallery in New York. He looked like any other visitor; casually dressed and with no form of disguise whatsoever. However, unlike all the other visitors to the gallery that day, he left with more than just a few postcards from the gift shop. Armed with just a black shopping bag, he stole a drawing by Salvador Dali entitled, “Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio,” and disappeared once again into the Manhattan daylight.

At the time, Adam Lindemann, the owner of the drawing said that he was saddened, and ironically described the theft of a Dali work as ‘quite surreal’. Happily for Mr Lindemann, the drawing was sent by mail from Europe to New York a week later and successfully intercepted by the US Postal Service.

2. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

It’s difficult to imagine a higher profile target for the art thief than the Mona Lisa but just over 100 years ago, the iconic painting was indeed taken from its Paris home.

The criminal in question, Vincenzo Peruggia was an Italian national who was employed by the Louvre. One night in August 1911, he stayed behind and hid in the building. The next morning, he managed to persuade a plumber to let him out – together with the Mona Lisa which wasn’t seen for another two years.

Bizarrely, Pablo Picasso was one of those questioned over the theft but upon his arrest, Peruggia said that he was merely trying to reclaim the painting for his homeland.

3. The Scream by Edvard Munch

There is more than one version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in circulation but the instantly recognizable image and immense value makes each painting a desirable target for thieves. In 2004 at Oslo’s Munch Museum a gang of thieves entered in broad daylight and threatened staff with handguns. In a short space of time, they had stolen The Scream and taken Munch’s ‘Madonna’ for good measure.

Both pieces were recovered in 2006 by which time they had been damaged but a more daring theft had occurred ten years’ earlier. On this occasion, while Norway was distracted by the Opening Ceremony at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, four men climbed a ladder and broke a window at the National Gallery in Oslo. In less than a minute they had taken the Scream but they did leave a note which read, “thanks for the poor security.” The painting was recovered undamaged in 2004 after a sting operation involving the Norwegian police, the British police, and the Getty Museum. (wiki)

4. Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci

As we’ve seen with the theft of the Mona Lisa, working inside a gallery gives a thief unique access but one set of thieves took a far simpler route by joining a tour party. In 2003, two men tagged along to witness an art collection housed at a Scottish castle owned by the 9th Duke of Buccleuch. At the end of the tour, they overpowered a female security guard before making off with Da Vinci’s The Madonna of the Yarnwinder. The frame was dumped shortly afterwards but it took another four years before the painting itself was recovered in a Glasgow Solicitor’s Office. Several men were subsequently charged in connection with the theft.

5. Storm on the Sea of Galilee

The art theft proclaimed as the world’s biggest was no less audacious as two men entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in March 1990 dressed as police officers in the early hours of the morning. The men overpowered the two security guards on duty that day making off with Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and 12 other works of art. “The stolen artworks have not yet been returned to the museum. However, the investigation remains an open, active case and leads are investigated by the museum and the FBI. Some media estimates have put the value of the stolen artworks at as much as $500 million, making the theft the largest single property theft in recorded history. An offer of a reward from the Gardner Museum of up to $5 million for information leading to the recovery of the stolen artwork remains open.”, wiki

This post was written by Tony Gibbs of Macbeth Insurance Brokers who offer fine art and antique insurance amongst other commercial policies. Follow them on Twitter @MacbethInsure.