The Quick 10: 10 Pieces of Stolen Artwork


August 22 is a bad day for artwork: on this day in 1911, it was discovered that the Mona Lisa was stolen, and on this day in 2004, two Edvard Munch paintings were stolen at gunpoint from a museum in Oslo. So, it makes sense to me that today's Q10 should be about famous works of art that were snatched out from under the collective noses of museums.

1. The Mona Lisa, 1911. After movies with incredibly complicated plots to steal art, like The Thomas Crown Affair and Oceans 12, it seems almost unbelievable that an employee at the Louvre just strolled out with the Mona Lisa stashed under his coat. But that's what happened. He kept it in his apartment for a couple of years before attempting to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. He was caught and served a few months in jail for his crime.

2. The Gardner Museum, 1990. A total of 13 pieces were stolen from Boston's Gardner Museum, including a few Rembrandts, a Manet, a Vermeer and five drawings by Degas. The total value of the pinched items is about $500 million. If you know anything, there's a reward of $5 million.

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4. The Van Gogh Museum, 1991.

Twenty of Van Gogh's most famous works were stolen from his namesake museum in Amsterdam, but were quickly found about 35 minutes later in an abandoned car. I guess the thieves lost their nerve(s).

5. Emile Bührle Foundation, 2008. A similar theft happened just earlier this year, this time in Zurich. Works by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Cézanne were taken from the Foundation, for a total of $163 million in missing masterpieces. However, the Van Gogh and the Monet were found not too long after the theft in a parked car near the museum.

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7. The Scream and the Madonna, 2004. Edvard Munch's pieces were famously stolen in Norway. An alarm went off when the thieves broke in, but the guard ignored it. I guess they were well-mannered thieves, because they left a note thanking the guard for his poor security.

8. Last Judgment triptych, 1473. Art theft is definitely not a recent phenomenon. An altarpiece like the Ghent panels, the Last Judgment was stolen from the de'Medici chapel in Florence. It's not lost, though "“ the thief gave it to the Gdansk cathedral in Poland. It was moved to the museum in Warsaw in the 1940s, but I believe it has since been returned to the cathedral.

9. The Duchess of Devonshire, 1878. The theft of this Gainsborough piece is kind of funny, I think "“ it was stolen so the thief could demand his friend's release from jail. Except, his friend has already gotten out of jail. Whoops. He made lemonade out of lemons, though, and demanded a ransom instead.

10. Quedlinburg medieval artifacts, 1945. During WWII, a soldier stole eight artifacts from a mineshaft "“ they had been hidden there by clergy members who feared that Nazis would steal them. He was still in possession of them when he died in 1980 "“ when his brothers attempted to sell some of the items in 1990, they were charged. That statute of limitations had passed, though, so the brothers were let off the hook.