Rare paintings are among the world’s most valuable objects. As such, they are often the topic of conversation, and even more often the targets of thieves. For hundreds of years art thieves have held a mystery and fascination. Sure, we know they are criminals… but they steal art! The allure of a criminal with fine taste is perfect fodder for gossip.
However, the reality is that there are two main purposes for art heists. Some paintings are stolen and sold on the black market. Other paintings — those too famous to be sold — are held for ransom. Either way, the thief is more interested in the price than painting.
Five of the most notable art heists in history are still talked about today.
1. Mona Lisa (da Vinci) – 1911
Being the most prestigious painting in history, Mona Lisa has had some prestigious owners. Later, she was displayed in the Louvre but on August 20, 1911, Mona Lisa was discovered missing from the French National Museum. All administrators of the Louvre were fired and the borders of the country sealed. Several months later, an art gallery in Florence announced they had caught the thief – Vincenzo Perugia, an Italian nationalist who believed the painting should be kept in France. Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre January 4, 1914.
2. Storm on the Sea of Galilee (Rembrandt) & The Concert (Vermeer) – 1990
These famous paintings were owned by a private collector in Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner, until her death in 1924. Her will stipulated the paintings remain in her small museum with no new additions and nothing was to be removed. And so it was – until March 18, 1990 when two men masquerading as Boston police officers made off with the paintings. The crime is yet to be solved and the paintings remain unrecovered.