Famous Art Heists

Famous Art Heists

Isabella Ambrose and Sam Cole

The Last Judgment-Pirates-1473

We can’t start a story without background knowledge. The first ever art heist ever recorded was in 1473. Polish pirates boarded a ship en route to Florence that contained Hans Melming’s Last Judgment, which depicts the second coming of Christ. The pirates brought it back to Poland, where it remains today in the National Museum in Gdańsk, Poland. Italian officials have been trying to get the piece back ever since.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum-1990

The most famous art heist to date occurred at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Isabella Stewart Gardner, the founder of the museum, was born into a well-off family. Inspired by her trips to Venice and intellectual life, Isabella began collecting manuscripts and artwork that she exhibited in her Venetian-style museum in Boston. This museum later became the location of the biggest art heist in history: $500 million worth of artwork was stolen. 

In the early morning of March 18, 1990, two cops arrived at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to investigate a “disturbance.” The two night guards let the cops into the building without question. However, things turned bad quickly when the cops held the guards against the walls and stated that this was a robbery. The so-called cops locked and duck-taped the guards in the tunnels underneath the museum.

Thirteen works went missing on the morning of March 18. The robbers weren’t expected to be professional; they cut the precious paintings from their frames. The missing paintings included Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert and The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt. The Concert is thought to be the most expensive missing painting in the world. Degas and Monet paintings were also stolen. Rembrandt’s self-portrait was taken off the wall, but was found unharmed when police arrived later that morning. 

Even though they lack evidence, the FBI believes that the works were stolen by members of the Boston Mafia during a period of gang wars. One theory is that Bobby Donati stole the paintings to get his Mafia captain out of prison. No members of any gang have confessed to the crime. The museum is currently offering a $10 million reward for the return of the artworks.


Mona Lisa-Louvre-1911

In 1911, an Italian handyman named Vincenzo Peruggia and two of his fellow conspirators stole what could be considered the most famous painting of all time. The three of them hid in a closet until the museum closed at night. They then stole the painting and left on a train that was leaving Paris the next morning. Since the painting is, you know, The Mona Lisa, it was quite difficult to sell, so he hid it under the floorboards of his Paris apartment. After Peruggia eventually found someone who could purchase the painting, the buyer wanted to “keep it safe,” which involved taking the art piece, calling the cops, and then returning it to the Louvre. Peruggia only spent 7 months in prison, and his heist was a reason that the frame of the Mona Lisa is now cemented.


French Spiderman-Paris’s Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville-2010

One of the most peculiar art heists occurred in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris in 2010. A man named Vjeran Tomic stole the paintings, was convicted for 14 total counts of theft and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tomic confessed later that the robbery was easy because none of the security systems were working. He says that he learned the “art of theft” in Yugoslavia; one of these techniques involved using acid to dismantle a window. Tomic stole 5 paintings, none of which have been recovered.


The Scream-Oslo Winter Olympics-1994

During the 1994 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, the famous painting The Scream was stolen. Thieves broke into the National Museum in Oslo, snapped the wire that the painting was hanging from, and left with the piece. The action took place against the backdrop of the opening festivities for the ‘94 Winter Olympics, which were held in Lillehammer, a city two hours north of Oslo. The Norwegian Government put out a ransom of $1 million to return the painting and after almost two years, the painting was found in a hotel room in a city north of Oslo. In 1996, four men were convicted in connection with the robbery.