Art heists have always captivated people’s imagination, often because they combine both glamour and intrigue. The thrill of a successful art heist is unique and has fascinated people for years. While there are countless instances of art theft, some heists stand out because of their sheer audacity, the value of the art involved, or the mystery surrounding them. Here are some of the most famous art heists throughout history.
Theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911
One of the most famous art heists in history was the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum in Paris in August 1911. The painting was stolen by Vincenzo Perugia, who was a former employee of the Louvre. Sixteen months later, the painting was recovered from Perugia, who had kept it hidden in his apartment in Florence. The theft and subsequent recovery made the painting even more famous, and it remains one of the most popular works of art in the world.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist in 1990
On March 18, 1990, two unsuspecting police officers responded to what they thought was a routine disturbance call at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. But when they arrived, they found themselves face to face with a group of thieves who were in the middle of a daring heist. The thieves made off with thirteen priceless works of art, including pieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Degas. Despite extensive investigations by the FBI, the thieves and the artworks have never been found, making this one of the most significant art heists in history.
The Great Train Robbery in 1963
On August 8, 1963, a group of fifteen men pulled off one of the most audacious robberies in British history. They stopped a mail train and then made off with £2.6 million (equivalent to around £50 million today). While the robbery is widely remembered for the daring of the thieves, it was also notable for the way they laundered the money. They used their haul to buy luxury cars, jewelry, and other assets, selling them a few pieces at a time to avoid drawing too much attention.
Art heists, like any other form of theft, are crimes that have real consequences for both the holders and admirers of the art. Some of the thefts mentioned above are still shrouded in mystery, with thieves or stolen artworks yet to be found. Some others, however, provide first-hand accounts of how these events unfolded. While art heists are certainly not to be romanticized, their history is filled with fascinating stories. Each of these events has shown us that even the most secure institutions are vulnerable to heists, but the investigation that follows the events to retrieve the stolen art is no less interesting.