Personal Note: I have always wondered if stealing art was really the same as what was portrayed in thrilling blockbuster movies such as ‘Ocean’s Twelve’ or ‘The Thomas Crown Affair.’ Also, how do people have the money and time to plan these heists?
Art theft is something we think of as plots in thrilling action movies, but unfortunately it is not that uncommon. Our culture’s history is littered with thieves that continue to steal precious works of art for individual gain, political motivations, or simply for the sheer thrill of it. During some recent internet diving, we discovered three shocking and culturally devastating art heists in modern history.
The Scream – Edvard Munch (2004)
The infamous and compelling image of a distorted man standing on a bridge with his mouth wide open is one of the most valuable paintings in the world. On August 22, 2004, two masked robbers entered the Munch Museum on Oslo with pistols and threatened the unarmed museum guards. The thieves escaped with The Scream and Madonna by Edvard Munch, stealing a combined estimate of $19 million.
Bystanders witnessed the clumsy thieves attempting to remove the framed paintings from the wall, even dropping them on the way out. After two long years, both paintings were recovered. Although some rampant rumors suggested the paintings might have been burned, neither was seriously damaged.
The Theft of the Golden Toilet (2019)
While some art thefts involve centuries-old paintings, this particular one involved a solid gold toilet, valued at more than $6 million. Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s America, a fully functional toilet made of pure eighteen-karat gold, was seized from the Blenheim Palace in England on September 14, 2019. There has been no trace of it since.
A group of thieves broke into the palace the night after Cattelan’s exhibition opening party and removed the heavyweight sculpture from its display. Since its disappearance, several suspects were arrested with no conclusions on either the identity of the thieves or the whereabouts of the work of art. Detectives and police are still working to hunt down the missing toilet with a reward of $130,000 to anyone that can help them with this mystery.
The most stolen artwork of all time (1934)
The Ghent Altarpiece, painted by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, has been forged, pillaged, dissected, censored, stolen by Napoleon, almost destroyed in a fire, then repeatedly stolen during the second world war, before being rescued by The Monuments Men, miners and a team of commando double agents.
The twelve-panel altarpiece has endured so much. The artwork was coveted by the Nazis; Hitler wanted it for his museum and Göring for his private collection. A part of it is still missing 80 years later.
It is safe to say that this piece of art must have gone through just about everything that could happen to a painting.
We hope you enjoyed this trip through the dark history of famous paintings. Let us know in the comments below if you have any great stolen art stories!
Allyshia Tran, Artful Journeys Virtual Intern
Allyshia is an Aussie born, aspiring Public Relations Student who is completing her final year of study while interning for Artful Journeys. With music, art, and beauty being some of her passions, Allyshia thoroughly enjoys singing, writing, and visiting Australian museums and art galleries (when a global pandemic hadn’t taken over our lives) whenever she isn’t swamped with school assignments. She sincerely hopes you enjoy her upcoming blogs, and please leave comments in reply to them!