Updated: Feb 11, 2022
In the early hours of Vang Gogh’s birthday, one of his prized painting was stolen from the Dutch museum Singer Laren. The theft appeared to be a smash and grab from the entrance of the museum where the thieves entered by breaking the glass at 3:15 am and taking Van Gogh’s 1884 work 'The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884,' which at that time was on loan to the Singer Laren from the Groninber's Museum permanent collection. Later on, that very day, museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm said at a
press conference, "I am extremely pissed off that this happened; this is a huge blow. This is extremely difficult, especially in these times."
That painting could easily have been priced at more than $50 million! And unfortunately, art crimes pay and they pay well. Art crimes were once called, the biggest criminal enterprise in the world for which the FBI has a separate database called NSAF or the National Stolen Art File database which generates at least $6 to $8 billion each year.
But no one knows who or when will the thieves strike back. So, while the lost paintings are being looked for, let’s look at the top 7 art crimes in the history of art!
1. Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci from the Louvre – 1911
An amateur put his easel near Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous pieces but to his surprise, this painting of the half-smiling women just vanished. This was on August 21’ 1911. The French police looked for it for over 2 years and even investigated poet Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Pablo Picasso in hopes of cracking this high-profile case.
Finally, in 1913 an Italian house painter contacted an art dealer in Florence claiming to possess the celebrated portrait. Police then arrested a former Louvre employee who walked in, removed the frame, and put it under his clothes, and for this, he served 6 months in jail.
2. The Last Judgement by Pirates Pilfer Hans Memling in 1473
The first time it occurred in 1473 when Dutch painter Hans Memling’s triptych was stolen by Polish pirates when they came to Florence. It was later brought back by the buccaneers who got it to a cathedral in Gdansk, in Poland and it has remained in the city’s national museum since then.
3. The Scream by Edvard Munch in 1994 & 2004
Munch creating several paintings turned out to be a good thing! 4 men broke into the National Art Museum in Oslo and stole one of The Scream’s many versions and
left a note saying “Thanks for the poor security”. This version was recovered in a sting operation conducted 3 months later. Then a decade later, 2 masked robbers broke into the museum and took one of the other versions of Munch’s The Scream as well as his “The Madonna” off the wall. Both these paintings were then found with water damage in 2006.
4. European Art by Nazi’s from 1933 – 1945
Nazis looted approximately 20% of Europe’s rich art heritage before and during World War II. They took with them cultural assets owned by Jews and from the museums in the city. Hitler who himself was a failed artist wanted to take with him the giant collection for his unrealized Führermuseum. None of these objects resurfaced and now it is speculated that they were all destroyed during the bombing, lost in a sunken submarine, hidden in a bunker, or buried in a lagoon.
5. Two Renoirs and a Rembrandt from Sweden’s National Museum in 2000
Using sensational tactics, a gang of thieves broke into Sweden’s National Museum in the year 2000. While one gunman threatened the security, the other 2 gunmen took 2 paintings by Renoir and one by Rembrandt. Their other partners blew up cars in other parts of the city to distract the police and they escaped outside the waterfront museum in a getaway speedboat. All 3 of these pieces were recovered in 2005.
6. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990
One of the biggest art heists ever that ever took place in history, this took place on March 18’ 1990 when 2 thieves entered the museum disguised as fake police officers. They told the guards that they were investigating a disturbance and successfully ran away with 13 pieces of art including paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet. A $5 million award was announced by the FBI for the same.
7. Ghent Altarpiece in 1934
A multi-paneled Ghent Altarpiece created by Flemish artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck came under numerous threats in history. Created in the 15th century for the cathedral of Saint Bavo
in Ghent, Belgium, it was attacked by the French and the Germans who even seized some arts of it! All of its components returned by the end of World War I but it was a brief reunion because thieves broke into the cathedral and stole the lower panel in 1934 and that was never seen again. A replica was created during World War II and that is what we see today but it is assumed that it is the original piece of the panel. Well, no one knows for sure!
Crimes happen daily and one thing or the other is stolen but world-famous pieces of art going amiss creates a buzz like no other. The news spreads like wildfire but before it reaches us, the thieves have already made an escape with these billion-dollar pieces of art! Now you know about the top 7 art crimes that took place in the history of art crimes. Maybe you’ll hear about another one soon, keep your eyes and ears open!