In the 1999 movie entitled “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the character of Pierce Brosnan successfully stole from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York the Monet painting “San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk” worth $100 million. Had this happened in true life, then that theft would rank as the seventh most expensive art theft in history. And it would not have happened in New York because the Monet painting is actually owned by the National Museum and Art Gallery in Cardiff in Wales.
Here now is a list of the top 10 most expensive art heists in history.
10 San Lorenzo Church, Palermo; October 1969 - $20 million
A painting by Caravaggio entitled “Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence” was stolen in Italy in 1969. The huge painting measures six square meters and was hung high above the church’s altar. Police believe two thieves were involved in the heist, with the painting carefully removed from the frame.
9 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; December 2002 - $30 million
Two paintings by Vincent van Gogh entitled “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene” and “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002. There is a $133,000 reward for their return. The first painting was the painter’s gift to his parents in 1884. His dad had been a pastor of the church since 1882. The second one was done in the open air at a beach resort near The Hague. As a result, there are a few grains of sand encrusted with the paint.
8 Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Cairo; August 2010 - $55 million
A painting by van Gogh entitled “Poppy Flowers” was stolen from an Egypt museum in 2010. It is also known as “Vase and Flowers” and “Vase with Viscaria.” The painting was also stolen back in 1977 before it was recovered in Kuwait ten years later. The small painting measures only 65 x 54 centimeters. It was a reflection of the painter’s tribute to an older painter named Adolphe Monticelli. There is a $175,000 reward for its recovery.
7 Czartoryski Museum, Krakow; 1940s - $100 million
A painting by Raphael entitled “Portrait of a Young Man” was stolen by the Nazis in Poland towards the end of World War II. The famous artist named Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, more popularly known as Raphael, did the painting around 1513 to 1514. Experts believe the painting is a self-portrait of the artist. It became part of Adolf Hitler’s art collection in Linz. Hans Frank, a friend of Hitler, then brought it to his home at the Royal Wawel Castle, where the painting was last seen. While it is still officially listed as missing, Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in 2012 that it has been found in an undisclosed bank vault and that the country was hoping for its return.
6 Munch Museum, Oslo; August 2004 - $110 million
A painting by Edvard Munch entitled “The Scream” or “Der Schrei der Natur” was stolen in Norway in 2004. It was first stolen in 1994 from the National Gallery in Oslo before it was recovered several months later. Ten years later, the painting was again stolen, but this time from the Munch Museum in the same city. The painting was recovered two years later with a note that said, “Thanks for the poor security.”
5 Musee d’ Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; May 2010 - $123 million
Five paintings were stolen in Paris in 2010, namely “Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois” by Pablo Picasso, “La Pastorale” by Henri Matisse, “L’ Olivier Pres de l’ Estaque” by Georges Braque, “La Femme a l’ Eventali” by Amedeo Modigliani and “Nature Morte aux Chandeliers” by Fernand Leger. They were stolen by a man who broke into the museum by smashing a window. He even took his time and carefully removed the paintings from the frame. The paintings have yet to be recovered.
4 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna; 1940s - $135 million
A painting by Gustav Klimt entitled “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” was stolen in Austria by the Nazis during World War II. Klimt was known to be a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that defied traditional painting techniques. The subject had died in 1925 and her husband donated the painting to the museum. The Nazis took over Austria and confiscated it. The husband then designated his nephews and nieces as his inheritors. It was eventually returned to the family, represented by Maria Altmann. It was then sold to the Neue Gallery in New York.
3 Foundation E.G. Buhrle, Zurich; February 2008 - $162.5 million
Four paintings were stolen in Switzerland in 2008, namely “The Boy in the Red Vest” by Paul Cezanne, “Count Lepic and His Daughters” by Edgar Degas, “Poppies near Vetheuil” by Claude Monet and “Blossoming Chestnut Branches” by van Gogh. All four have since been recovered. The Monet and the van Gogh were found eight days later in a hospital parking lot near the museum. The Cezanne and the Degas were found in Serbia four years later.
2 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; March 1990 - $300-500 million
Thirteen pieces of art were stolen in Boston in 1990. These include “The Concert” by Vermeer, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt, “Chez Tortoni” by Manet and “Landscape with an Obelisk” by Govert Flinck. Vermeer’s painting was one of only 34 works done by the artist. There were also two other paintings by Rembrandt, as well as a postage stamp-size self-portrait of the artist. Five drawings of Degas were also taken. The paintings have not been recovered yet and a $5 million reward has been offered.
1 Musee du Louvre, Paris; August 1911 - $743 million
The Leonardo da Vinci classic “Mona Lisa” was stolen in France in 1911. Vincenzo Peruggia, who believed that the painting should be displayed in Italy, took it. He attempted to sell the painting to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence two years later. Peruggia was hailed as hero in Italy, but was nevertheless arrested and jailed for six months. The painting was exhibited all over Italy before being returned to the Louvre in 1913.
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