On Art

Three Art Heists From History Worth Looking At

Art Heist scene in film, The Thomas Crown Affair. NOTE: – the song that starts at 1:17 is called Sinnerman by Nina Simone ( the background of the Sinnerman video, is also in the video above is The Son of Man, 1946 by Rene Magritte ). Sinnerman is also is the sample in Timbaland’s song titled Oh Timbaland.

Whether it’s using a silent glass cutter and descending in a black jump suite through trip-wire lasers in the middle of the night, or simply walking out with a priceless pieces of artwork in broad day light after executing a carefully thought out plan, art heists are a common thread not only in the movies, but many times have occurred through history and have happened as recent as the year 2019. And although some of these examples don’t quite fit classic scenes in the movies, some of them come awfully close like the 2019 Dresden Castle Heist. Following that, we will cover the highest valuation of stolen art from the Stewart Gardner Museum, and then finally, Mona Lisa takes a field trip from the Louvre.

2019 Dresden Heist

Pure CCTV video from the 2019 Dresden Heist. The above CCTV video, looking like something out of a movie, if only the camera shots and the presence of audio were a bit better. But smooth? No, this guy doesn’t have time to be smooth.

On the 25th of Nov., 2019 expensive jewelry was stolen Green Vault museum within Dresden Castle in Dresden, Germany:

The Dresden Castle By User:Kolossos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

“On 25 November at 4 a.m. a small fire was started on the nearby Augustus Bridge, which destroyed a power box. The resulting power outage disabled streetlights and security alarms, but CCTV continued to function. The thieves then cut through iron bars around a window to break into the museum’s Jewel Room. According to police, the thieves must have been very small in order to fit through the hole. CCTV footage shows two thieves within the vaults. They smashed the glass displays with an axe in order to gain access to the jewellery”…

“The thieves removed three 18th-century jewellery sets consisting of 37 parts each, including diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. The thieves were not able to take all of the pieces from the three jewellery sets; some jewellery was sewn into the surface of the cabinet and those pieces remained. However, they also took the Dresden White Diamond worth €9–10 million. The thieves exited through the same window, replacing the bars in order to delay detection. The robbery was detected by the guards at 04:56 a.m. and 16 police cars were dispatched to the museum. Security guards stationed at the museum followed protocol after the heist was discovered and did not engage with the robbers, as the guards were unarmed. They instead notified police and followed safety protocol.”

While jewelry lays on the far end of the art spectrum and probably the more appealing to thieves because of it’s small size, the thieves made off with the jewelry without a scuffle, probably escaping on the autobahn. An Audi A6 was found, lit on fire in a parking lot sometime after the robbery. And latest mainstream news provides a report that the guards are now also being investigated and the jewelry is possibly being sold on the dark web. Hmm.

What was stolen?

The items stolen were valued at 1.18 Billion Dollars.
Jürgen Karpinski/Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Let’s move to a couple more examples that are more art-ish.

1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft

Boston, Massachusetts, USA – By Beyond My Ken – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

“The robbery occurred in the early hours of Sunday, March 18, 1990. The thieves were first witnessed around 12:30 a.m. by several St. Patrick’s Day revelers leaving a party near the museum. The two men were disguised as police officers and parked in a hatchback on Palace Road, about a hundred feet from the side entrance. The witnesses believed them to be policemen.”

Wow – disguised as police officers…

Then smoke alarms in the guards room, they were just shut off assumed to be a malfunction. Later, the “police” arrive, the guards get handcuffed by the “police” and they rob the museum. The thieves continued to cut paintings out the frame and roll them up.

Some of the items that were stolen:

One of the stolen works of art – Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee – By : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain
Another stolen work of art – A lady and gentleman in black oil on canvas – By Rembrandt – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Public Domain
Stolen. Bronze French Imperial Eagle finial from the early 1800s – By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use

More stuff was stolen, not pictured above.

“The painting accounts for half of the haul’s value, estimated at $250 million in 2015. In the Short Gallery, five sketches by French artist Edgar Degas (1834–1917) were stolen.”

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took immediate control of the case on the grounds that the artwork could likely cross state lines. Investigators have called the case unique for its lack of strong physical evidence. The thieves did not leave behind footprints or hair, and it is inconclusive if the fingerprints left at the scene were from the thieves or museum employees. The FBI has done some DNA analysis in the years following as advancements in the field grew. Some of the evidence has been lost among their files. The guards and witnesses in the street described one thief as about 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) to 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) in his late 30s with a medium build, and the other as 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) to 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m) in his early 30s with a heavier build.”

Nothing concrete was ever found during the rest of the investigation.

Fictional accounts of the robbery and what occurred to the paintings were explored on television shows BlindspotThe BlacklistThe Venture Bros. and The Simpsons, as well as the novels The Art Forger (2012) by B.A. Shapiro, Artful Deception (2012) by James J. McGovern,and The Hidden Things (2019) by Jamie Mason.

1911 Mona Lisa Theft at the Louvre

By Leonardo da Vinci – Cropped and relevelled from File:Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF.jpg. Originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain

Who hasn’t heard of the painting Mona Lisa by  Leonardo da Vinci? The conundrum of the enigmatic smile ( read an analysis of The Secrets of Mona Lisa Noel Huntley, Ph.D. ), the way the eyes seem to follow you no matter where you stand, and other peculiarities of one of the most popular piece of artwork in history might be a couple of the reasons this artwork got stolen besides the simple fact that it’s worth somewhere between $650,000,000-$850,000,000.

-Modern day – Napoleon courtyard of the Louvre museum at night time, with Ieoh Ming Pei’s pyramid in the middle. By Benh LIEU SONG (Flickr) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
The Louvre in the 19th Century – Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-pga-13069)Source.

“On 21 August 1911, the painting was stolen from the Louvre. The missing painting was first noticed the next day by painter Louis Béroud. After some confusion as to whether the painting was being photographed somewhere, the Louvre was closed for a week for investigation. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire came under suspicion and was arrested and imprisoned. Apollinaire implicated his friend Pablo Picasso, who was brought in for questioning. Both were later exonerated. The real culprit was Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, who had helped construct the painting’s glass case. He carried out the theft by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet, and walking out with the painting hidden under his coat after the museum had closed.”

Pablo, we know you did it, now tell us where it’s at!!!

Wow, so he just walked out of the museum with Mona Lisa under his coat. Holy Methuselah. Supposedly he had some personal reasons ( he simply though it was better suited in a different museum ) for stealing the painting and he had the painting in his room for over two years before selling it to another art gallery where it was shortly thereafter returned to the Louvre. It remains at the Louvre at the time this article was written.


I hope you enjoyed looking at these three major art thefts. Some interesting things happen when there are millions, even just short of a billion dollars in the mix. Out of the three cases here, only one is solved. Somewhere around 5-10% of all stolen art is ever actually recovered.

Guys, until next time – may you find all the happiness that your life can fit in it’s happy spot – S.D. McKinley

By S.D. McKinley

S.D. McKinley lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He was born in the first half of the 1980's and grew up in Wisconsin as a young boy, then moved to Georgia when he turned exactly twelve years old. During teenage years, he raced dirt track go karts and played guitar. He discovered his current love for all kinds of art after his mid-life crisis at 25 years old. S.D. McKinley began writing books in 2017.

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