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25 of the Biggest Art Heists of All Time

Heists aren’t easy. But these thieves make it seem like stealing the world’s most famous paintings is a piece of cake! Usually, when most people think about heists, they think about cash or gold, but one of the more lucrative ways to make a lot of money is by stealing art.

Over the course of hundreds of years, art has gained significant monetary value. Some pieces cost millions of dollars, and some don’t even have an official price attached to them due to their historical significance and the artistry involved in making them.

Just to give all readers of how valuable art can be, it has been reported that theft over the course of a number of years has resulted in a loss of $4 – 6 Billion dollars. Most often, the thieves who plan on selling their loot are caught, due to the small amount of buyers and fencers, but sometimes they actually get away with it.

This article will list down 25 of the greatest art heists of all times and what was the end result of each of these instances.

1. The Van Gogh Museum Heist

When: December 7, 2002
Stolen: View of Sea at Scheveningen, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen
Value: $30 million

At exactly 8pm on the evening of December 7, two thieves broke into the Van Gogh Museum in Paris through the roof and took two very valuable paintings. Both were works of Van Gogh himself. The thieves were caught in 2014 but it took 14 years for the paintings to be recovered.

2. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Heist

When: September 4th, 1972
Stolen: Works by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Corot, Delacroix, Rubens, Thomas Gainsborough
Value: $2 million

Popularly referred to as The Skylight Caper, this heist remains unsolved to date. At 12:30am on September 4th, three unidentified men entered the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through a skylight that was undergoing repairs. They tied up the three guards who were on duty and left two and a half hours later with 18 paintings and some jewelry all valued at a total of $2 million.

3. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist

When: March 18th,1990
Stolen: Vermeer, The Concert and Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, A Lady and Gentleman in Black among other works of Manet and Flinck.
Value: $500 million

In the early hours of the morning, two men posing as police officers who were responding to a disturbance call entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Once they gained admission, they tied up the guards and proceeded to steal thirteen precious items from the museum.

This is one of the largest recorded private property thefts in history. The museum still hangs the empty frames the artwork was cut out of as homage to the missing works.

4. Swedish National Museum Heist

When: December 22nd, 2000
Stolen: Rembrandt Self Portrait, Renoir, Conversation with the Gardner and Young Parisian
Value: $30-$36 million

Lauded as one of the most elaborate heists, the theft of valuables form the Swedish National Museum in the year 2000 is one of those rare heists that was solved. It was led by 42 year old Russian man, the heist was the work of three men who entered the museum with a machine gun, held up security and escaped through a motorboat waiting nearby.

Despite the glorious escape, all those who were believed to be involved were caught within a month.

5. The Museum of Modern Art Paris Heist

When: May 20th, 2010
Stolen: Picasso, Pigeon with Peas ; Matisse, La Pastorale ; Braque, Olive Tree near L’Estaque; Modigliani, Woman with a Fan and Léger, Life with Candlestick
Value: $140 million

Vjeran Tomic, nicknamed ‘Spider Man’ by the French media, broke into the museum in Pairs through a window during the night of May 20th 2010. He proceeded to steal five incredibly valuable paintings. The theif and accomplices were arrested but the pieces have not been found. According to a watchmaker who was an accomplice, he panicked and threw the canvasses in the trash.

6. The Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum Heist

When: August 2010
Stolen: Van Gogh, Poppy Flowers or Vase and Flowers
Value: $55 million

Though the thieves who stole this piece didn’t take anything else, the heist is notable because of how rare the painting was. It was the last piece created by famed artist Vincent Van Gogh before he committed suicide in 1889 and it has still not been recovered.

7. The Kunsthal Museum Heist

When: October 16th, 2012
Stolen: A number of notable pieces including; Picasso, Harlequin Head; Gauguin, Femme Devant Une Fenetre Ouverte, Dite La Fiancee and Monet, Waterloo Bridge, and  Charing Cross Bridge, London.
Value: More than $133 million

A group of thieves entered the Kunsthal Museum in the Netherlands at 3.15 am through a fire escape door. They were inside the museum for no more than two minutes during which time they were able to steal a number of significant art pieces. The art has not been found and is believed to have been destroyed.

8. The Arab Yacht Heist

Buste de Femme 1938 was one of the paintings from Pablo Picasso’s personal collection. They had never been publicly seen. This particular one was owned by a Saudi multi millionare who claimed that no one knew he owned it. He even went as far as to say he hid it when he had people over.

However, the painting was stolen from his yacht in 1999 and police believed that it was the work of an organized gang.

9. The Mona Lisa Heist

When: August 21st, 1911
Stolen: Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa
Value: $100 million

Arguably the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa was stolen by three men from the Louvre in Paris one early morning in 1911. It was no easy feat. They had to lift the 200 pound painting, frame and protective glass that Mona Lisa was encased in. They then had to strip it off its frame and case, cover the wooden canvas with a blanket and then make their exit to the 7:47 am train out of the city.

Some say it is this heist that made the Mona Lisa popular. It took twenty eight months after the painting was stolen to recover it.

10. The National Museum of Norway Heist

When: 12th February 1994
Stolen: Edvard Munch, The Scream
Value: $120 million

During the lead up to the 1994 Olympics, the National Museum in Norway moved their version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream from its usual location to the ground floor as a showcase of Norwegian culture. At 6:30 am on 12th of Febuary – the same day as the opening ceremony of the Olympics – two men broke into the museum by climbing a ladder and breaking in through a window. They cut the painting off the wall and fled in less than a minute’s time.

The funniest part of the heist? The thieves left a note reading thanks for the poor security. The painting was recovered a month later.

11. The Whitworth Art Gallery Heist

When: April 26th, 2003
Stolen: Van Gogh, The Fortifications of Paris with Houses; Picasso, Poverty; Gauguin, Tahitian Landscape
Value: $4 million

Unidentified thieves broke into the Whitworth museum in England by applying force to the steel covered doors sometime after 9 pm on April 26th and proceeded to steal three important pieces of art. The interesting part is that all the artwork was recovered in two days thanks to an anonymous tip to the police. The artwork had been dumped in a dirty public toilet less than a quarter mile away from the museum.

Apparently, the thief had not intended to steal, only to highlight the woeful security of the museum – as evident by an actual note that they had left.

12. The Drumlanrig Castle Heist

When: August 27th, 2003
Stolen: Leonardo Da Vinci, The Madonna with the Yarnwinder
Value: $450 million

Two men posing as tourists went on a tour of Drumlanrig Castle and spent 15 minutes touring the caste before restraining the guide in the room where the painting was kept and taking the Renaissance masterpiece from the wall. As they escaped through a window, they are famously recorded for having said to two tourists who saw them; “Don’t worry, love, we’re the police. This is just practice.” The painting was recovered four years later.

13. National Museum London Heist

When: 1961
Stolen: Francisco de Goya, Duke of Wellington
Value: $390,000

To protest against government spending tax dollars on a painting, a bus driver named Kempton Bunton decided to steal the Duke of Wellington in protest. He planned the heist well; on a visit to the museum prior to the theft, he spoke to a policeman who happened to tell him how security alarms went off every morning when the workers were cleaning.

Taking advantage of the information, Bunton used a window to enter the museum and swipe the painting as the alarms were going off. He claimed later that his intent was to use the money to buy TV licenses for the poor before turning himself in.

14. The Pablo Picasso Heist

When: February 27th, 2007
Stolen: Pablo Picasso, Maya with a Doll and Portrait de femme, Jacqueline
Value: $66 million

While Picasso’s own granddaughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso slept, thieves slipped into her home in France and stole two of Piccaso’s works. They left without a trace. The paintings were recovered in August of the same year and the thieves were arrested.

15. The E.G Buhrle Heist

When: February 2008
Stolen: Cezanne, Boy in the Red Waistcoat; Van Gogh, Blossoming Chestnut Branches; Monet, Poppies near Vétheuil; Degas, Count Lepic and his Daughters
Value:  $163 million

Three armed men entered a private museum in Zurich right before closing time, wearing ski masks and proceeded to steal paintings worth over $163 million. They loaded the paintings into a white vehicle parked in front of the museum according to bystanders. It’s often referred to as one of the greatest European heists to date.

16. The Kate Moss Robbery

When: May20th, 2010
Stolen: Portrait of Banksy, Portrait of Moss
Value: $100,000

Two men broke into Kate Moss’s home by scaling the wall  and smashing through a window while the supermodel slept with her mother and boyfriend also in the house. The robbers stole three works of art including a Banksy portrait.

17. The Chacara do Ceu Museum Heist

When: February 2006
Stolen: Picasso, The Dance ; Monet, Marine; Matisse, Garden of Luxembourg and Dali, Two Balconies
Value: $20 million

During the Carvinal in Brazil, armed thieves burst into the Cacara do Ceu Museum and used the crowds at the carnival to escape. During the heist, they forced the museum staff to disconnect the building’s alarm and camera system. This allowed them to make it out of the building with the stolen art.

18. The Schirn Kunsthalle Museum Heist

When: July 1994
Stolen: Turner, Light and Color and Shade and Darkness
Value: $40.8 million

This heist was organized by the Yugolavian Mafia. The thieves were ordered to hide out at the museum overnight and then leave with the three paintings the following days. The thieves were eventually caught, but not the masterminds behind the plan.

19. The Pinacoteca Do Estado Museum

When: June 2008
Stolen: Picasso, The Painter and the Model and Minotaur, Drinker and Woman; Di Cavalcanti Women at the Window
Value: $612,000

Three armed men entered the museum by paying the $2 entrance fee, ordered three security guards to get down on the floor and within ten minutes, they had stolen the paintings they came for in two bags.

20. The Sao Paulo Museum of Art Heist

When: December 2007
Stolen: Picasso, Portrait of Suzanne Block; Portinari, O Lavrador de Café
Value: $55 million

Three men broke into the museum in the early hours of the morning using a crowbar and carjack to force open the doors. It took them three minutes to steal the paintings that they came for but they couldn’t get far. They were caught less than a month later.

21. The Edvard Munch Museum Heist

When: August 2004
Stolen: Munch, The Scream and Madonna
Value: $87 million

Two men were hired to seal Edvard Munchs’s famous paintings titled The Scream and Madonna. Masked, they entered the museum in the morning with .357 magnum and tore the paintings from the wall and left before the authorities could get to them.

22. The Russsborough House Heist

When: May 1986
Stolen: Vermeer, Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid; Goya, Portrait of Dona Antonia Zarate; Rubens, Portrait of a Dominican Monk; Metsu, Man Writing a Letter
Value: $50 million

Thirteen people. Eighteen Paintings. Six minutes. This is how the Russborough House was robbed for a second time. It is believed that the Irish criminal mastermind Martin Cahill was behind the heist although he was never officially charged.

23. The Marmottan Museum Heist

When: November 1985
Stolen: Works of Money, Pierre-August Renior, Berthe Morisot, and Sei-ichi Naruse
Value: $12 million

Five armed men entered the Marmottan Museum, brandishing pistols and swept the gallery clear of important works. It is believed that the Japanese crime boss Schuinichi Fujikuma was involved. The artwork was recovered later in Corsica but the culprits have not been caught.

24. The Thomas Agnew & Sons Gallery Heist

When: 1876
Stolen: Thomas Gainsborough, Duchess of Devonshire
Value: $150,000

Adam Worth, renowned criminal stole a portrait from the Thomas Agnew and Sons Gallery to bail his brother out of jail. Once his brother was free, he decided to keep the painting for himself. It was recovered years later and is now in the hands of J.P Morgan.

25. The National Fine Arts Museum Paraguay Heist

When: July 2002
Stolen: Murillo, Self Portrait; Courbet, The Virgin Mary and Jesus; Piot, Landscape
Worth: $1 million

An 80 foot long, 10 foot deep tunnel was dug by the thieves that led into the museum. They used fake name to rent out space a little away from the museum and actually recruited staff to help. Two months later, they snuck in during closing hours and left with a dozen paintings.

Reading about all these heists makes you wonder how much effort it must take to pull off something on this scale and not get caught. In the world of high end art, one stolen piece can amou nt to a loss of millions of dollars, which is why so many thiefs make it their lifes goal to steal one.

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