Artwork: A selection of the work stolen from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum theft.
Art theft is a booming business. The properties are worth untold sums, which continue to rise as the market increases their value. Adding to this, only 5-10 percent of stolen art is ever recovered, making it one of the most successful crimes to be committed.
The FBI has compiled a list of the top ten art crimes, and only one of the cases has been solved. Crave has put together a snapshot of this exceedingly lucrative black market crime.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft
What a crime! On March 18, 1990, two men disguised as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Once inside, they tied up security guards, then stole 13 artworks including paintings by European masters Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas. The haul is estimated to be world $500 million, and is the largest property crime in U.S. history. The FBI is offering a $5 million reward. Good luck folks!
The Van Gogh Museum Robbery
In his life, Vincent van Gogh couldn’t catch a break. Though he knew his work had value, the market forsook his brilliance. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of suffering from mental illness. With his death, the work was finally recognized as genius by the establishment and underground alike. In 2002, two thieves broke into the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where they stole View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, valued at $30 million. In 2003, the men were convicted, but police never recovered the paintings.
Theft of Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise
Paul Cezanne, a contemporary of van Gogh, was an accomplished Post-Impressionist in his own life. His work has stayed at the forefront of the market since his death in 1906. On December 31, 1999, under the cover of fireworks to celebrate the new millennium, a thief broke into Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, to steal View of Auvers-sur-Oise. Valued at £3 million, the painting is an important work illustrating the transition from early to mature Cezanne painting.
Theft of Renoir Oil Painting
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, also a contemporary of van Gogh and Cezanne, was a classic French Impressionist who enjoyed tremendous success in his lifetime. His sumptuous paintings of the leisure class have been celebrated throughout the century since his death in 1919. In 2011, an armed man in a ski mask broke into a private home in Houston, confronted the owner, then stole her Renoir painting, Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair, created just one year before the artist’s death. The value has not been announced, but a reward of $50,000 is on the table for any information leading to the recovery of the painting.
Theft of the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Murals, Panels 3-A and 3-B
Maxfield Parrish was an American painter and illustrator best known for his neo-classical paintings that helped to shape the Golden Age of Illustration at the turn f the 19th century. His work has inspired everyone from Michael Jackson to Elton John, embodying the glory of the world through its heroic allusions. In 2002, two paintings were cut from their frames and stolen from a gallery in West Hollywood, California. The paintings are panels from a series commissioned for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Fifth Avenue mansion in New York, are valued at $4 million.
Theft from the Museu Chacara do Céu
In 2006, four armed men broke into the Museu Chacara do Céu, Rio de Janeiro, and stole paintings by Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Claude Monet, as well as unnamed objects. The value of the stolen items has not been estimated.
Theft of Van Mieris’ A Cavalier
Frans Van Mieris was a Dutch Master working in the 17th century and the head of a leading family of artists. In 2007, a brazen theft occurred at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Van Mieris’ self-portrait, A Cavalier, was stolen while the gallery was open for public viewing. Perhaps its relatively small size made the thief bold enough to act, for the portrait measures a mere 6.3 x 7.9 inches. Its value is estimated at over $1 million.
Theft of Caravaggio’s Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco
Caravaggio is considered one of the greatest painters of the Italian Baroque, crafting a body of work that is as subversive as it is revolutionary in style and substance. A criminal himself, Caravaggio was wanted for murder when he died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 38 in 1610. Fast forward to 1969: two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy, and removed the Caravaggio painting, Nativity, from its frame. The haul is estimated to have a value of $20 million.
Iraqi Looted and Stolen Artifacts
During the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the nation’s cultural institutions and archaeological sites were looted and plundered. An estimated 7,000-10,000 artifacts were stolen from the Iraqi National Museum. While some pieces have been recovered, most remain lost. In 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement recovered the statue of King Entemena of Lagash, one of the most important pieces from the collection.
Theft of the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius
The Stradivarius string instrument is so undisputed in quality that has become a class unto itself. Constructed by Antonio Stradivari in the 17th and 18th centuries, these violins, violas, cellos, and other instruments easily sell for millions of dollars. In 1995, the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius violin, made in 1727, was stolen from the New York City apartment of noted concert violinist Erica Morini. The violin has been valued by $3 million.
Artwork: Courtesy of the FBI.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.