Monday, September 3, 2012

Brazen Art Thefts

We all know that many mysteries are 'stolen' from the headlines. I've posted stories of art thefts that find their ways into mysteries--location, type of art, method of stealing, local and international police investigations, museums, private collections and more. Mystery Readers Journal has had several issues devoted to Art Crime Fiction, too. Art Mysteries I. Art Mysteries II. posted 9 of the Most Brazen Art Thefts today. Some you'll know. Some you'll want to read more about... maybe for your next novel?

Mona Lisa Hidden Inside Coat

On August 21, 1911 guards opened the doors to the Louvre in France to find the iconic portrait gone. The museum was closed for a week and an international investigation began, turning up nothing. Even Picasso and Appolinaire were questioned. Two years later, a man calling himself “Leonardo” contacted an Italian art dealer, saying he had the Mona Lisa. A trap was set, and the thief was apprehended. It turned out his real name was Vincenzo Peruggia, who used to work at the Louvre. According to Peruggia, the theft was somewhat of an impulse – the room in which the painting was hung was temporarily empty because a guard had taken a smoke break; he grabbed the Mona Lisa, discarded its frame in a stairway, and walked out of the museum with it under his coat. Peruggia claimed his motive was not money: he wanted to see Da Vinci's masterpiece returned to Italy, where he felt it belonged. Even though he was sentenced to two years for his crime, he became a hero to Italia

Retired Briton Stole Goya in Protest over TV fees (photo)

In 1961, a pensioner named Kempton Bunton was upset with the British Government. Not only did they make retired people pay a license to watch television, but he felt they squandered money to buy a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Goya. (Wellington was considered a national hero, and a rich American had bought the painting, planning to take it to the US.) So he devised a scheme to make his point. He chatted up the Guards at the British National Museum and found out the sophisticated alarms they used to protect the art were often switched off in the morning during cleaning. Thinking quickly, he stepped into the loo and jimmied open the window. The next morning about 6am, the 252-pound man came in through the bathroom window, pulled down the Goya, and slipped back out with the precious painting. He sent several ransom notes, demanding a fund of 140,000 British Pounds be set up in a trust fund to pay elderly people's licenses. But the police thought it was a hoax. Finally, in 1965 he sent a letter to the Daily Mirror telling them the whereabouts of the painting and turned himself in to Scotland Yard. At the trial, Bunton used an obscure British law to defend himself, saying that they were required to acquit him of the theft if they believed he intended to eventually return it. He was, however, found guilty of stealing the frame, which was never recovered, and sentenced to three months in prison

Read about the other Art Thefts HERE.

Stolen Dali Put in Shopping Bag, Mailed Back to Gallery
Stephane Breitwieser Stole Hundreds of Artworks, Mother Destroyed Them
Thieves Use Car Bombs as Diversionary Tactic to Steal Artworks
Zurich Heist: 4 Masteroworks Stolen in 3 Minutes
Munch's The Scream Stolen Twice
Monet, Sisley & Brueghels Stolen at Gunpoint in Broad Daylight
Last Judgement Stolen in 1473 by Pirates


Sheila Connolly said...

For an employee, walking off with any number of treasures is pathetically simple. I've worked at two different institutions where multi-million dollar thefts took place while I was there, and it took quite a while before anyone even noticed. (I'd love to see if I have an FBI file!)

Janet Rudolph said...

When I was studying art history, I went to a professor's home for a gathering. There was a small painting by a very well known artist. I knew this professor had worked at a museum that housed many of this artist's works. While the painting in question was not a major work, I very much doubt that this professor had it in his/her means to purchase it.. at any time.

Diana R Chambers said...

There's an interesting story, Janet:-) Thanks for posting this great link...really good material here!