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15 Daring And Totally Outrageous Art Thefts

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Art has played a significant role throughout human history - but so has art theft. Art heists have been rampant around the world ever since artwork first became incredibly valuable. This list explores the most outrageous art thefts throughout history. 

These crooks lifted millions of dollars' worth of art and they composed a number of shrewd plans to do so. Some of them used force, while others used distractions like fireworks and alarms or global emergencies. One man even replaced over 100 pieces of famous art with his own paintings and drawings. Another simply walked out of a museum with a renowned painting stuffed inside his coat. Some of the pieces have since been found, but most of them have never been recovered. 

  • Photo: Vincent van Gogh / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    A Van Gogh Painting Was Stolen From A Dutch Museum Closed Due To Coronavirus

    In late March 2020, as the coronavirus spread globally, museums were emptied, providing the perfect opportunity for some unknown crook (or crooks) to raid The Singer Laren - a museum in the Netherlands - and swipe Van Gogh's "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884." 

    According to The Associated Press, the painting's value was not immediately reported, but it is estimated to be worth millions. Museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm said in a statement:

    It is very bad for the Groninger Museum [which loaned the painting to the Singer], it is very bad for the Singer, but it is terrible for us all because art exists to be seen and shared by us, the community, to enjoy to draw inspiration from and to draw comfort from, especially in these difficult times.

    Investigators reported that the crook (or crooks) "smashed a glass door to get into the museum," which set off an alarm that triggered law enforcement. By the time they arrived, however, the culprit (or culprits) were gone. 

    In April 2021, authorities from the Netherlands announced they had detained an unnamed suspect in the 2020 incident. The 58-year-old man, nabbed at his home in Baarn, is also suspected of taking a Frans Hals painting from the Hofje van Aerden museum, also in the Netherlands, in 2020. The paintings were not found. 

  • Photo: Rembrandt / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Two Crooks Posed As Police Officers, Complete With Fake Mustaches

    In the spring of 1990, two men posed as police officers to steal 13 pieces of art worth $500 million. The incident occurred in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, where they showed up in fake uniforms and wax mustaches, claiming they had received a call about a disturbance.

    After gaining entrance with their false identities, the robbers tied up the security guards and carried out the scheme in under an hour. They stole pieces from well-known artists including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Flinck. These valuable works have never been recovered, and the FBI is still offering a $5 million reward for information regarding their whereabouts. 

  • Photo: Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Prison Guards Lifted A Famous Sketch In An 'Incredibly Stupid' Plan

    In 2004, four prison guards at Rikers Island plotted together to lift a valuable sketch from their place of employment. The sketch was donated by its creator, Salvador Dali, who felt guilty for declining to teach art classes at the prison. The guards set off a fire alarm to distract the lobby's night guard while they lifted the piece and replaced it with a replica.

    This "replica" was drawn very poorly, however - according to those who saw it, it appeared to be the work of a child. Even worse, the thieves stole the original frame, then simply stapled the fake Dali onto the back of the display case.

    ''It was incredibly stupid,'' said one of the men's lawyers. Not surprisingly, the guards were caught immediately and the drawing was recovered.

  • Photo: Leonardo da Vinci / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    A Museum Worker Hid The Mona Lisa In His Coat

    The famous "Mona Lisa" was taken in 1911 from the world's largest museum, the Louvre. After two years of investigating, the culprit was finally found. He contacted an Italian art dealer, who helped the French authorities by setting up a fake meeting. The man was revealed to be Vincenzo Peruggia, a former employee of the Louvre.

    Peruggia admitted that he decided to take the painting on an impulse, and he only did so because he noticed that the guard was temporarily out of the room. He simply removed the painting from its frame and he stuffed it in his coat before casually leaving the museum.