The most fascinating European museum art heists - Ahulan

The most fascinating European museum art heists


Art heists at European museums are mostly mysterious. Art thefts are seldom discussed by victim museums. Others are captivated by them. Who would steal millions of Euros in art? And why? Below is an article on some of the most fascinating art heists in European museums.

Art thefts in European museums
I led private Van Gogh Museum visits in Amsterdam. I mentioned the 2002 art robbery at that museum throughout each trip. We always wondered who preserved those great artworks and why. They cannot be displayed in your living room for guests.

After those two paintings were found in 2016, I began studying some of Europe’s most remarkable art heists. And most importantly, their motivation.


10 most fascinating European museum art thefts

1. Louvre Mona Lisa (1911)
Over a century ago, a renowned European museum art robbery occurred. This is likely why Mona Lisa is renowned today. The photograph was taken by Italian handyman Vincenzo Peruggia. The museum engaged him to make glass cases for artworks.


Vincenzo later declared he intended to restore the picture to Italy, its author’s country. He probably didn’t know Leonardo da Vinci painted it in France and that King Francis I purchased it.

Vincenzo hid in a closet in the Louvre Museum overnight, took the picture, and fled. He pitched it to Italian museums. But the lost artwork garnered European media attention, and no one wanted to help. After trying to sell the picture to Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, he was caught and the piece returned to the Louvre.

2. Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum (2002)
Another noteworthy European museum art robbery occurred nearly a century later. Two guys climbed the ladder into the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in December 2002, shattered a window, and stole two early Dutch paintings. Men were arrested but sold the artworks.

Police raided an Italian property in 2016 and uncovered two missing Van Goghs. They returned to the Amsterdam museum after 14 years. They were thoroughly restored after a few months on exhibition. This fantastic documentary on the art theft includes security camera video of an actual robbery.

3: Dresden Green Vault Museum royal jewelry (2019)
Despite arresting the art robbery suspects, the stolen works have yet to be found.

A bunch of robbers sabotaged the museum’s energy just minutes before getting in, deactivating the alarm. They broke window bars, destroyed glass, and entered via a window. They stole world-class royal jewelry valued 128 million euros. The final value is hard to assess owing to their historical and cultural importance.

Six guys were charged with the heist in 2021, but the jewelry hasn’t been recovered. The museum caught burglars not disassembling the jewelry since it melts easily.

4. ‘The Scream’ taken from Oslo’s Munch Museum (2004)
In 2004, Europe’s most mysterious art robbery seized Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, a world-famous artwork. Two masked gunmen entered a museum during opening hours. They stole ‘The Scream’ and ‘Madonna’ from Oslo’s Munch Museum, threatening guards and guests.

The artworks were found two years after the heist. Its non-financial purpose was never discovered.

5. Spiderman at Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne (2010)
Criminals having stolen paintings struggle to sell them. An art dealer, who wanted a great artwork to sell, collaborated in this art robbery.

Vjeran Tomic intended to steal a Fernand Léger artwork from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. He spent days in the museum before robbery. To preparation for his burglary a few days later, he acid-sprayed the glass.

Eventually, he snatched the artwork from the museum via that window one night. After the alarm didn’t go off, he took additional Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, and Braque pieces.

The notorious ‘Spiderman’ thefter, who climbed museum walls to enter, was caught and imprisoned. The art isn’t yet established.

The New Yorker has a terrific article about the art theft.

6. Benvenuto Cellini’s “Saliera,” Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum (2003)
The alarm expert broke into Vienna’s prestigious museum in 2003 and stole Benvenuto Cellini’s “Saliera.” He turned off the alarm, entered the museum, and left with his treasure in a minute.

The golden sculpture was subsequently buried in the wilderness. Two years later, he asked the police for five million euros to reclaim the masterpiece. The thief was nabbed when police found his SIM card. The famed artwork returned to the museum days later.

7. Musée Marmottan–Montet, Paris (1985)
Looted Berthe Morisot artwork from Paris’ Musee Marmottan Monet
The calm Parisian Musée Marmottan-Monet was the site of another Hollywood-style art robbery. Five gun-wielding burglars broke in the early hours of Sunday morning. Visitors and museum guards were warned to lie on the floor. Meanwhile, they stole Impressionist artworks from that institution. The thieves took nine Monet, Renoir, Morisot, and Naruse paintings. The most renowned was Monet’s ‘Impression, Sunrise’.

The artworks were found five years later when a Japanese mafia robber was jailed. They were recovered in a Corsican villa and returned to the museum.

8. Van Gogh artwork stolen during lockdown (2020)
European museum thieves like Van Gogh’s paintings. This one occurred lately and symbolically on Vincent van Gogh’s birthday, March 30, 2020.

As many European museums closed because to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands did so a few days earlier. The thief broke into the museum at night. Only Van Gogh’s ‘The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring’ was borrowed from the Groninger Museum.

Who stole the artwork is still unknown. Check out the Guardian of the museum security camera footage here.

9—Manchester Whitworth Art Gallery (2003)
In 2003, Manchester had one of the shortest art robbery, but criminals left a message. Someone broke into the Whitworth Art Gallery and stole van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso masterpieces. They placed them in a cardboard tube in a little restroom 200 meters (650 feet) from the museum. They wrote, “We didn’t intend to steal these paintings, just to highlight the woeful security.”

In the early 2000s, European museums had several art heists, thus this warning is fair. The robbers were never located, hence the mystery’s motivation remains unknown.

10. Picasso at Palais des Papes, Avignon (1976)
In 1976, the Papal Palace in Avignon was the site of a major European art robbery. This occurred when 119 Pablo Picasso pieces were stolen from the show. Three armed men entered the museum at night, intimidated the guards, and took the paintings.

Luckily, all Picassos were discovered later that year. All seven art heist suspects were apprehended.

Why do art heists happen?

One cannot question the reasons of art heists after reading about them. Is it money? Famous stolen art is hard to sell. An eccentric billionaire seldom has a stollen Van Gogh in his bedroom.

While valued millions of euros, such artworks sell for 10% of their original value on the underground market. Sometimes crooks sell them to insurers. They find it simpler to acquire stolen art than pay the institution.

However, European museum art heists have a darker side. Famous artworks were sometimes traded as guarantees by criminals. They would guarantee payment with a renowned artwork if they bought a lot of narcotics.

Art heists may appear exciting, yet barely 10% of stolen art is recovered. We lose most of them permanently.

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