17 Art Thefts That Make ‘Ocean’s 11’ Look Tame

Uncover 17 art heists that outshine ‘Ocean’s 11’ in style and audacity. These masterful thefts are straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster.

“The painting ‘The Scream’ was stolen the same day as the opening of the 1994 Olympics; the thieves left a note saying ‘thanks for the poor security.’” The work was ultimately recovered.

“A Picasso was stolen from an art gallery in Melbourne, Australia by a group of people demanding more funding for the arts. The painting was stolen but the group were never found and no one was ever charged for the theft. The paining is now back on display.”

“In 2003, a woman found a stolen painting [Tres Personajes by Rufino Tamayo] worth $1 million in the trash on a NYC curb. She felt it ‘had power’ and took it without knowing its origin or value. She spent 4 years researching it and discovered it’d been stolen in 1987. She got a $15,000 reward plus a % of its $1,049,000 sale price.”

“In 1990, 2 thieves dressed as policemen stole the only Rembrandt seascape painting in existence in one of the most expensive art heists ever. The case remains unsolved today.”

“Franz Marc’s famous painting The Tower of Blue Horses was last seen in a 1937 [German] exhibition of ‘degenerate’ art, and has been searched for ever since.”

In 2007, Van Mieris’ “A Cavalier” was stolen from an art gallery in New South Wales, Australia during visiting hours. While authorities initially suspected the theft may have been an inside job, the painting, which is worth an estimated $1 million, has yet to be recovered.

“In 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia, wanting to bring the Mona Lisa back to Italy after ‘It was stolen by Napoleon’, simply walked in the Louvre, lifted off the painting, took it to a nearby service staircase, removed the frame, put it under his smock, and simply walked out with it in plain sight.”

“TIL That the painting “The Concert” by Johannes Vermeer, stolen in 1990 during the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft, is still considered by many experts to be the most expensive object ever stolen. It was valued at 250 million dollars in 2015.”

“Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III has been stolen numerous times, as its minute size has aided thieves in its numerous thefts. The painting has been given the nickname “takeaway Rembrandt” as it has been stolen four times since 1966 – the most recorded of any painting.”

In 1972, thieves entered the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through a skylight where they swiped several jewels and more importantly, 18 paintings. With several of the artworks painted by artists like Rembrandt and Rubens, the haul, which has never been recovered, was estimated to be worth $2 million at the rime of the robbery. The incident has been dubbed the “Skylight Caper.”

In the peak of the first Covid-19 lockdown, thieves smashed a window at the Singer Laren museum in The Netherlands and took Van Gogh’s “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring.” The painting was returned in September 2023, delivered to the door of an art detective, wrapped in bubble wrap inside of an Ikea bag.

Though you’d think a group of thieves breaking into an art museum may set off several alarms, such couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2007, robbers entered the Sao Paulo Museum of Art using a crow bar and a hydraulic jack, stole Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch” as well as Candido Portinari’s “The Coffee Worker,” and managed to sneak off without tripping any security system. How did they pull it off, you ask? The museum had no alarms.

“The painting Woman in Gold was stolen by the Nazis from its Jewish owners in 1941 and displayed at the Galerie Belvedere in Austria. The gallery refused to return the art to their original owners and in 2006 after a 7 year legal claim which included a hearing in front of SCOTUS, it was returned.”

“Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady was stolen from a gallery in 1997 after discovery by a student that it had been painted over another Klimt piece previously believed lost, Portrait of a Young Woman, not seen since 1912. The painting was discovered by gardeners concealed in a wall in the gallery in 2019.”

Despite weighing roughly two tons, thieves managed to steal Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure back in 2005, which was on display outdoors in England. It’s unclear how or why this heist came to be, but authorities suspect those involved melted down the piece for its bronze.

Back in 2002, two robbers broke into the Vincent van Gogh Museum after climbing a 15-foot ladder and smashing a window, making off with two of the iconic painter’s early pieces. Their whereabouts were a mystery until 2016, when the paintings were discovered in an Italian farmhouse.

In 2015, private art collector José Capelo learned a hard lesson about keeping his travel plans under wraps after robbers broke into his Madrid home, and stole five works by British painter Francis bacon. Only three of the five paintings were found after the robbery, part of why the incident has been nicknamed “the greatest contemporary art heist in recent Spanish history.”

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