History has seen many great artists produce exceptional works of art which eventually became targets of daring thieves many years later. While you're on the look-out for clues to break the lock of Lomography's latest challenge, we bring you stories about some of the biggest art heists in history, orchestrated by some of the craziest and even most clever minds with their eyes on the prize!
Last year, the History.com Staff told the world about 10 of the most famous art heists that have disturbed the art world through the years. Art historians and journalists say these crimes are more about acquiring the priceless works of art for the thieves’ personal collections rather than making money out of them. Are you curious? Then, without further ado, we bring you the art heists that made it to History.com’s top ten:
Pirates Pilfer The Last Judgment by Hans Memling (1743)
Tagged as the first recorded art heist, a triptych called The Last Judgment by Dutch painter Hans Memling was stolen in 1743 by Polish pirates. The altarpiece painting was on its way to Florence but the buccaneers brought it to a cathedral in Gdansk, Poland. It remains in the city to this day, housed in the national museum.
Mona Lisa Leaves the Louvre (1911)
Declared the world’s most famous painting, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre on August 21, 1911. Poet Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Pablo Picasso were taken in as suspects for the major case. It took two years French detectives to finally sniff out the culprit: Vincenzo Peruggia, a former Louvre employee. Turns out that he managed to sneak inside the museum, remove “Mona Lisa” from her frame, and hide the prized painting under his clothes.
The Scream Goes Missing, Twice (1994 and 2004)
Norwegian painter Edvard Munch made two versions of his most celebrated work called “The Scream,” both of which were stolen in a span of a decade. The first incident occurred in February 1994, where the version housed in Oslo’s National Art Museum were taken by four men. The second incident occurred later in Oslo’s Munch Museum in August 2004, where two masked robbers pointed guns at tourists and employees as they tore off “The Scream” and another Munch masterpiece, “The Madonna.” Two years later, Norwegian police finally arrested the thieves and retrieved the paintings, which both had water damage and tears.
Nazis Plunder European Art (1933-1945)
Among the atrocities the Nazis were notorious for during and prior to the World War II was their involvement in the looting of around 20% of Europe’s rich art heritage. Aside from the cultural assets in possession of the Jews or housed in the museums of the cities they occupied, German soldiers reportedly took the sculptures and decorations inside a luxurious chamber called the Amber Room, found inside Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg. While the legendary contents were never recovered, the Amber Room was reconstructed in 2003 (photo above).
Sweden’s National Museum Loses Two Renoirs and a Rembrandt (2000)
A gang of art thieves broke into the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm and used diversionary tactics to steal some valuable paintings. As a gunman held the museum’s security staff, two others worked to take down two Renoirs and a Rembrandt. Outside, several more of the gang’s accomplices blew up cars to delay the police’s response. To complete their heist, the burglars climbed onto a getaway speedboat by the waterfront museum along with the prized paintings. All three stolen pieces were recovered in 2005.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Looted by Fake Cops (1990)
The incident that took place in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum made headlines as one of the biggest art heists in history for three things. First, the burglars disguised themselves as policemen, making their way into the museum’s premises after telling the security officers that they need to investigate a disturbance. Second, they took off with 13 priceless artworks, including those by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet. Finally, despite the $5 million reward and massive investigation by the FBI, the pieces remain missing, and the burglars at large.
A Panel Goes Missing from the Ghent Altarpiece (1934)
The multi-paneled Ghent Altarpiece was created by Flemish artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck in the 15th century, making it one of the most valuable artworks in history. The altarpiece has gone through several threats throughout its lifetime and still managed to make its way home complete in the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Belgium. However, in 1934, thieves broke into the cathedral and took the lower left panel, never to be seen again. A replica was painted sometime during the World War II, which remains to this day.
Masked Burglar Takes Five Paintings from the Musee d’Art Moderne (2010)
Two years ago in May, a masked man, believed to be a lone burglar, sneaked into the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris and took with him five priceless paintings. These included “Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois” by Picasso (photo above), and “La Pastorale” by Matisse. The hunt for the missing masterpieces are still ongoing to this day, despite experts declaring the paintings unsellable due to the heist being publicly known.
Whitworth Art Gallery Treasures End Up in a Public Bathroom (2003)
In April 2003, three prized paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Gaugin, estimated to be worth $8 million, wound up in a disused public loo after going missing from the Whitworth Art Gallery nearby. The paintings were stuffed in a cardboard tube along with a note saying that the heist was orchestrated to bring attention to the museum’s poor security at the time.
Bogus Tourists Lift Madonna of the Yarwinder (2003)
In August 2003, two thieves who pretended to be tourists managed to take off with a Renaissance painting believed to be by Leonardo Da Vinci, called “Madonna of the Yarwinder.” It was hanging from the wall of Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland, the ancestral home of the Duke of Buccleuch. The police retrieved the painting in 2007 during a Glasgow law firm raid, and is now on housed at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
So, what can you say about History.com’s top ten art heists? In case you want to read about more of these major art heist stories, you may also want to check out the 50 Greatest Art Heists of All Time by Complex Art & Design and The World’s Biggest Art Heists by CNBC.
All photos and information for this article were sourced from History.com.