Tuesday, 21 May 2024

The most audacious art heists in history

The most audacious art heists in history: From Mona Lisa stolen by worker who simply lifted it off the wall to theft of an Edvard Munch by crooks who left note saying: ‘Thank you for the poor security’

  • Some heists are depicted in films such as The Duke starring Jim Broadbent 

Throughout history people have attempted and succeeded in stealing priceless pieces and precious artefacts from museums. 

Some of the most audacious heists include the Mona Lisa being stolen by a worker who simply lifted it off the wall, in addition to the thieves of an Edvard Munch leaving a note which read: ‘Thank you for the poor security’.

More recently it was revealed a worker who was a ‘world expert’ was sacked by British Museum after items were ‘missing, stolen or damaged’.

Peter John Higgins, 56, had worked at the museum for 30 years before he was accused of theft. 

Going back to 1911, while working at the Louvre in Paris, Vincenzo Peruggia walked up to the painting, took it off the wall, extracted it from its case, and took the Mona Lisa home. 

 Vincenzo Peruggia who worked at the Louvre, Paris walked up to the painting, took it off the wall, extracted it from its case, and took the Mona Lisa home

Francisco Goya’s portrait of The Duke of Wellington was stolen from London’s National Gallery by Kempton Bunton

Despite its simplicity, 112 years later it is still one of the most-well known art heists in history. 

Peruggia kept the painting hidden in a trunk for two years before getting caught trying to sell it to a gallery in Florence – he said he wanted to return it to its homeland. 

The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, but in the meantime police had accused a number of people of theft, including Pablo Picasso.

Fifty years later, on the same date as the Mona Lisa theft, Francisco Goya’s portrait of The Duke of Wellington was stolen from London’s National Gallery by Kempton Bunton.

The Duke which was released in 2020 starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren depicts the heist which saw Kempton steal the painting to raise £140,000 for a cause close to his heart – ensuring elderly and poor people could get free TV licences.

Four years after Bunton climbed through a bathroom window – which he had previously left ajar – he turned up at a police station and confessed to the theft. 

Bunton’s lawyer Jeremy Hutchinson QC, managed to persuade the jury that his client had borrowed the painting and he was only convicted of stealing the frame.

In 1994, two men used a ladder to break in to Oslo’s National Gallery and take Edvard Munch’s Scream painting. They subsequently left a note which said: ‘Thank you for the poor security.’ 

The British Museum worker sacked over missing priceless treasures  was today named as Peter John Higgs, 56,

The Duke which was released in 2020 starring Jim Broadbent (left) and Helen Mirren (right) depicts the heist which saw Kempton steal the painting to raise £140,000 for a cause close to his heart – ensuring elderly and poor people could get free TV licences

Two men used a ladder to break in to Oslo’s National Gallery and take Edvard Munch’s Scream painting – of which there was four versions. [Stock Image] 

The museum refused to pay a ransom charge of $1 million, but the painting was later recovered.  

A decade later a different version of Munch’s Scream – there were four versions created by the artist in total – was stolen from the same gallery by masked gunmen in broad daylight. 

Several of the thieves were convicted but it wasn’t until two years later the police managed to recover the painting. 

Dubbed the biggest art heist in modern history, five men have been convicted of orchestrating and carrying out the theft of 18th-century jewels worth £100 million from a Dresden museum in 2019. 

The Dresden state court ruled that the five men aged 24 to 29 were responsible for the break-in at the eastern German city’s Green Vault Museum on November 25, 2019, and the theft of 21 pieces of jewellery containing more than 4,300 diamonds with a total insured value of at least 113.8 million euros (£99 million).

The theft included 21 pieces of jewellery containing more than 4,300 diamonds with a total insured value of at least 113.8 million euros (£99 million)

The Dresden state court ruled that the five men aged 24 to 29 were responsible for the break-in at the eastern German city’s Green Vault Museum on November 25, 2019

Many of the pieces were badly damaged and some are still missing, including a brooch that belonged to Queen Amalie Auguste of Saxony.

About 40 people are believed to have been involved in planning the heist and are still wanted.

Furthermore, the five men cannot be forced to give any testimony on the whereabouts of the treasures, even though they have been convicted.

In March 2020, three historic paintings dating back to the sixteenth century and thought to be worth millions of pounds vanished from an art gallery after an overnight heist.

The alarm was raised when thieves broke into the renowned Christ Church Picture Gallery, in Oxford at 11pm. 

Dubbed the biggest art heist in modern history, five men have been convicted of orchestrating and carrying out the theft of 18th-century jewels worth £100 million from a Dresden museum in 2019

Described as ‘one of the gravest art thefts ever’ by an art expert, in 2015 bandits dressed in black entered the 14th century fortress at closing time and took paintings including masterpieces by Tintoretto, Rubens and Bellini. 

The men made their escape from Castelvecchio Museum in the security guard’s car before switching to another vehicle.

The bandits tied up and gagged the site’s security officer and a cashier with one of the men watching over the hostages while the other two raided the exhibition rooms.

At the time, Roberto Bolis, Verona council spokesman said the museum had 24-hour security but the robbery had been planned so that the thieves arrived after the building emptied but before the alarms had been activated.

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