Ancient paintings and artworks are worth millions, which is why they attract the attentions of the finest and most talented of thieves. While some stolen art pieces have been returned to their rightful locations and a few have been returned to their owners, a number of art pieces are still yet to be found. There are some conspiracy theories that accuse the governments of staging these heists to make it look like these paintings were stolen to cover up for storing them in secret facilities. This is done with the aim to preserve the art pieces and keep them away from the public. There are also some conjectures arguing that some of the art pieces displayed in museums and art galleries are high-quality replicas.
However, for those who believe that these art pieces were indeed stolen by art thieves will agree that these crooks did an exceptional job. Not only did they steal valuable masterpieces, they also left the authorities flabbergasted and puzzled. Here is a list of the ten biggest art heist in human history.
THE ISABEL STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM HEIST: In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men pretending to be policemen requested to be allowed in by the guard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Once they got inside the Venetian-palazzo-style building, the men commended the guard to move away from the emergency buzzer, his only link to the outside world. They handcuffed him and another guard and tied them up in the basement. The thieves then raided the museum’s treasure-filled galleries for over eighty-one minutes and then loaded up a vehicle waiting outside and vanished.
Later that morning, the day guard arrived for his shift and discovered spaces on the walls where paintings should have been. Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Vermeer’s “The Concert,” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,” and five works by Edgar Degas had vanished. In some places, empty frames were still hanging, the priceless works crudely sliced out. Till date, the Isabel Gardner museum heist is the largest property theft in U.S. history, experts have assessed the current value of the stolen art at more than $600 million. Twenty-three years later, the case is still yet to be solved.
MEXICO NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY HEIST: On the eve of Christmas 1985, Robbers stole 140 precious objects from Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology containing pre-Colombian objects in history. The robbers picked a lethargic time when they knew the guard’s attention would be diverted by holiday cheer, and grabbed various gold, turquoise, and jade objects, as well as an obsidian monkey-shaped-vase worth over $20 million. Most of the pieces were recovered in 1989 when the thieves – Carlos Perches Trevino and Ramon Sardina Garcia – were arrested after trying to sell the precious artifact on the black market. Tracking down the remaining objects have been frustrated by the size of the artifacts and ease of transport.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY IN OSLO HEIST: One of the most notable heists occurred at the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994 on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. It took two thieves approximately fifty seconds to break in and steal an artwork, one of the two canvas versions of The Scream. Before leaving, they penned down a short note saying, “A Thousand thanks for the poor security”. No suspects were identified immediately despite the fact that whole act was recorded. A month after the theft, the museum received a ransom request of $1 million but refused to accept the demands. The thieves were caught when undercover British detectives pretended as art buyers willing to pay £250,000 for the painting. The thieves took the bait and three months later they were arrested in a small coastal town just south of Oslo. Munch’s masterpiece was recovered with only negligible damage and returned to the museum.
THE LOUVRE, FRANCE HEIST: Before the Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa became the most famous painting in the Louvre, this tiny Renaissance portrait had to be stolen. On August 21, 1911, three Italian handymen hid inside a supply closet overnight in order to sneak into the museum and steal the Mona Lisa. One of them, Vincenzo Perugia, was the man who had installed the protective glass over the Mona Lisa in the first place. The theft was all over the French newspapers because many people feared that German or American businessmen were buying up all the good art from their museums. The painting became so popular that he couldn’t trade it without getting caught. So Perugia hid it in the false bottom of his trunk until over two years later, when he finally tried to sell the art piece. Perugia was arrested and the painting was returned more famous than ever.
THE STOCKHOLM MUSEUM, SWEDEN HEIST: A few minutes before closing time on the 22nd of December 2000, armed burglars stole $30 million worth of art by Renoir and Rembrandt from the Stockholm Museum. The artwork stolen were the 1630 Rembrandt self-portrait and two paintings by Renoir, “Young Parisian” and “The Conversation,”. They planned two car explosions nearby to divert the attention of the police, and then a gunman with a semi-automatic terrorized the museum while his accomplices grabbed the art piece. Then the burglars escaped in style by sprinkling nails on the ground to ward off pursuit and zooming away in a motorboat.