The Louvre, 1911
In 1911, da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" was stolen from the Louvre museum in Paris in a theft that shocked the world and brought the painting to fame. On August 20, Vincenzo Perugia, a handyman in the museum, finished his shift and hid inside an art supply closet with two brothers, Vincenzo and Michele Lancelotti. After the museum closed, they carefully lifted the 200-pound, framed and glass-enclosed painting from the wall, stripped da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" out, hid the painting under a blanket and scurried off to catch a train out of Paris. The masterpiece disappeared for two years.
Museum staff didn't know the "Mona Lisa" was missing until the next day. When they saw the empty space on the wall, they assumed the painting had been removed as part of a project to photograph the Louvre's inventory. After a frequent patron asked a guard to query the photographers for their timeline, the museum staff realized the theft and called the police, but there were no clues at the scene [source: NPR].
Perugia was captured two years later. He claimed the theft was a patriotic attempt to return the painting to Italy, da Vinci's homeland. But he was caught trying to sell the painting to a dealer, who immediately called the police when he realized Perugia was indeed in possession of the highly publicized stolen painting, which had been known as a masterpiece only in select circles of the art world before its theft.
For more information on art heists and related topics, including how some thieves sell stolen works, look over the links below.
More Great Links
- Associated Press. "2 Paintings Stolen From Zurich Museum Didn't Get Far." New York Times. Feb. 20, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/20/world/europe/20zurich.html
- Associated Press. "$163 Million Art Heist in Zurich." CBS News. Feb. 11, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/11/world/main3815033.shtml
- Associated Press. "Munch masterpieces join a daunting list of stolen paintings." Aug. 8, 2004 (Jan. 21, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2004-08-23-stolen-paintings_x.htm
- Associated Press. "Solve Famed Boston Art Heist, Get $5M." June 23, 2010. CBS News. June 23, 2010. (Jan. 21, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/16/national/main6303926.shtml
- Bailey, Ronald. "The Monuments Men: Rescuing Art Plundered by Nazis." HistoryNet. April 19, 2007. (Jan 12, 2012) http://www.historynet.com/the-monuments-men-rescuing-art-plundered-by-the-nazis.htm
- BBC News. "Greatest Art Heists in History." (Jan. 10, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/3590106.stm
- BBC News. "Scream Stolen from Norway Museum." Aug. 22, 2004. (Jan. 11, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3588282.stm
- BBC. "Swedish National Museum Rembrandt recovered." Sept. 16, 2005. (Jan. 9, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4252568.stm
- BBC. "Swedish National Museum stolen Renoir recovered." April 6, 2001. (Jan. 9, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1263808.stm
- Bell, Rachael. "Sensational art heists from Mona Lisa to Munch's The Scream." Crime Library (Jan. 9, 2012) http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/outlaws/major_art_thefts/index.html
- Braver, Rita. "Rescuing Nazi-Looted Art." CBS News. Feb. 11, 2009. (Jan 12, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/01/27/sunday/main3755983.shtml
- Brooks, David. "Two Van Gogh Works Stolen from the Van Gogh Museum." Van Gogh Gallery. Dec. 7, 2002 (Jan 12, 2012) http://www.vggallery.com/news/20021207.htm
- FBI. "Theft Notices & Recoveries - Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum." (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft/isabella/
- FBI. "Art Crime Team. Young Parisian recovered." (Jan. 11, 2012) http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft/art-crime-team
- Haq, Husna. "Paris Art Heist: The Chances of Recovery Aren't Good." May 20, 2010 (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0520/Paris-art-heist-The-chances-of-recovery-aren-t-good
- Harnischfeger, Uta. "Zurich art museum robbed of a Cézanne, a Degas, a Van Gogh and a Monet." International Herald Tribune. Feb. 11, 2008 (Jan. 9, 2012) http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/11/europe/zurich.php
- Iverson, Jeffrey T. "The French Art Heist: Who Would Steal Unsaleable Picassos?" May 20, 2010 (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1990921,00.html
- Johnson, Kirk. "2 Are Convicted in Theft of Art at Warehouse." April 11, 1987 (Jan. 21, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/11/nyregion/2-are-convicted-in-theft-of-art-at-warehouse.html
- Jones, Jonathan. "Was the Theft of Munch's 'The Scream' Really About Art?" Feb. 16, 2007 (Jan. 21, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2007/feb/17/art.arttheft
- Kurkjian, Stephen. "Secrets Behind the Largest Art Heist in History." The Boston Globe. March 13, 2005 Jan. 9, 2012) http://www.boston.com/news/specials/gardner_heist/heist/
- Lendon, Brad. "Reward Beats Risk for Art Thieves." CNN. Feb. 14, 2008 (Jan. 13, 2012) http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/02/14/art.theft/index.html
- MacAskill, Ewen. "New discovery sheds light on Nazi art theft." The Guardian. Nov. 1, 2007. (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/01/usa.art
- NPR. "The theft that made the 'Mona Lisa' a masterpiece." July 30, 2011 (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.npr.org/2011/07/30/138800110/the-theft-that-made-the-mona-lisa-a-masterpiece
- The Telegraph. "Art Theft: Some of the famous art heists of the past 100 years." (Jan. 11, 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/8702071/Art-theft-some-of-the-famous-art-heists-of-the-last-100-years.html?image=1
- Townsend, Mark and Davies, Caroline. "Henry Moore case solved." The Guardian. May 16, 2009. (Jan. 9, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/may/17/henry-moore-sculpture-theft-reclining-figure
- Treasures of the World. "Theft of the Mona Lisa." PBS. (Jan. 10, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/mona_nav/main_monafrm.html
It's hard to imagine, but much of the world's most beautiful art sits, rarely seen by anyone, in tax-free warehouses called freeports.