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Six Major Art Museum Heists That Made History

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The art heist at a museum in Dresden on Monday is the latest major robbery of artworks and precious objects from museums.


Take a look at some other art museum heists that made history.


1. The Mona Lisa, the Louvre


On 21st August 1911, Leonardo de Vinci’s famed “Mona Lisa” was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris. Poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the painter Pablo Picasso initially came under suspicion, but the robber turned out to be an Italian glazier who helped frame the museum’s paintings. He kept the painting for two years in his Paris home, before trying to sell it in December 1913 to a Florentine dealer who raised the alarm. The court sentenced the thief to seven months in prison.


2. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Overnight September 3-4, 1972, three robbers, armed with machine guns and rifles, took advantage of works at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal to get in by a skylight and steal 18 valuable paintings and around 40 items of jewellery and precious objects, to a total value of two million dollars. The stolen works, including by Rembrandt, Brueghel l’Ancien, Rubens, Corot and Delacroix, were never retrieved.


3. Boston’s Gardner Museum


On March 18, 1990, in the early morning, two men disguised as police officers fooled the personnel of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, taking off with 13 works by the grand masters including Degas, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet. The haul, estimated at least half a million dollars, has never been recovered despite the promise in 2017 of a reward of $10 million.


4. Cellini’s ‘Salt Cellar’


On 12th May 2003, at dawn, the “Salt Cellar”, a piece of goldsmithery by Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini for the King of France Francois 1, was stolen from Vienna’s Fine Arts Museum.


The thief, an expert in alarm systems, climbed scaffolding put in place for the restoration of the museum and made off with the masterpiece, with security guards not being worried about the alarm going off.


The work, valued at more than 50 million euros, was found three years later, almost intact, in a crate buried in a forest to the northwest of Vienna, after the thief gave himself up. The crook who had demanded a ransom of 10 million euros was sentenced to five years in prison.


5. Oslo Munch Museum


On August 22, 2004, two armed and balaclavad robbers in broad daylight burst into the Munch Museum in Oslo. They seized two major artworks “The Scream” and “Madonna”, before fleeing before stunned visitors, in an operation that only took 50 seconds. The two masterpieces were found, damaged, two years later, in mysterious circumstances. Three men received prison sentences.


6. Paris modern art museum


On May 20, 2010, five works by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani and Leger, of an estimated value of more than 100 million euros, disappeared from the modern art museum in Paris.


The thief, who had just sought Leger’s “Still Life With Candlestick”, benefited from a major breakdown in the security system to walk off with four other major works. The authorities recovered none. The court, however, sentenced the robber to eight years in prison in 2017.


In France, the biggest thefts include 118 Picasso works, in late January 1976, at the museum of the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and at the Marmottan in Paris, in November 1985, during which four Monets, including the famous “Impression Sunrise” and two Renoirs were pilfered. The authorities, however, recovered all the works.


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