How Not To Steal A Million

Joanne Artman Gallery
Jun 30, 2018 6:44PM

Promotional Image for How To Steal A Million, 1966  ©  20th Century Fox

In tandem with this week’s news of another botched art restoration, as well as the Bloomberg article on the misunderstandings that occur in art crime, we look back on misadventures both fictional and real.

There is a real lack of transparency in the private backroom dealings of the artworld where prices are unpublished, and inventory is undisclosed except to a select few. Such business practices have left many open doors for a black market that specializes in fakes, and “lost” or stolen works. We have written before how this murky landscape resembles what could certainly be labeled as one of the last glimpses of a Wild West. Operating in a realm where the idea that anything and everything can be bought still permeates, many have staked their futures in the lucrative and risky business of art theft. Unfortunately, many times, such ventures come unrewarded due to a lack of interested buyers. In the rarified stratospheres of fine art and jewelry, a successful theft and sale seems impossible for those already not a part of this world.

A light-hearted look at crimes of passion, greed, or foolishness (or all three), both big and small, superficial and profound. These are our top five.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-17. (Image courtesy of WikiCommons)

Mona Lisa, Louvre, 1911

Still considered the most famous art heist in history, the theft has now become a legend in itself. The burglar was an Italian handyman named Vincenzo Peruggia, and brought even more fame and attention to Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, beginning a two year police hunt. Two years later Peruggia was caught, the painting recovered, and the Mona Lisa cemented its place as the most famous painting in the world.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. (Image courtesy of WikiCommons)

2 Works by Edvard Munch, Munch Museum, 2004

Two masked gunmen stole two of the most valuable works of art by Edvard Munch - The Scream and Madonna in the summer of 2004. Despite recorded footage of the burglary, it took police two years to recover the works and numerous false arrests.

Henry Moore in his workshop. (Image courtesy of WikiCommons)

Henry Moore Foundation, 2005

Traveling thieves stole the two-ton sculpture Reclining Nude by loading it into a truck. The work was never recovered as it was tragically sold off as scrap metal, with pieces of the work ended up in scrap yards throughout Europe and China.

How To Steal A Million, film, 1966

We would be remiss if we didn’t include (with fondness) the masterful 1966 romantic comedy caper starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. The inclusion of this fictional film that tells the story of a budding romance between an art thief and a forger is a great pop culture example of the type of false representation of the ease and reward of art theft perpetuated by movies and books to the present day. But the storyline certainly makes for great TV.

Room in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with frame which once held The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. (Image courtesy of WikiCommons)

13 Various Works, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1990

Considered to be the largest in scale art theft in history. Two burglars made off with 13 masterpieces from renowned artists such as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Degas. The museum was under strict orders under the will of Isabella Stewart Gardner to not move any artworks from where she had placed it prior to her death. As such, the museum hangs empty frames in place of the stolen artworks, a sombre reminder of the unsolved crime.

To conclude, in the words of Noah Charney, expert on art theft as reported by Bloomberg, “There’s almost never been a criminal who knew about, or cared about, art.”

                                Writen by JoAnne Artman Gallery  ||

Joanne Artman Gallery