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ART THEFT Powered By Docstoc

Art theft is the stealing of someone else’s high profile art. This is usually done for the purpose of resale; thieves may also be commissioned by dedicated private collectors.

Categories of art thieves:

during wartime,  “finders-keepers”

Amateur: typically involves looting

Art Thieves
– Professional: 4th largest international criminal enterprise, – attracts two major criminal types – opportunists seeking to make a lot of money or “superthieves” who steal for the thrill of collecting or fulfilling a wealthy patron’s request for a certain work of art

Professional theft of art may occur for several reasons:
Criminals intend to sell the work on the open market. • works generally end up being recovered (Hint: you can not sell that multimillion dollar Da Vinci on eBay without someone noticing).

Theft commissioned by a wealthy individual who desires to possess a certain work of art or work by a particular artist. • crimes are more difficult to solve since the “collector” tends to stash the art in a vault or may only show it off to other wealthy friends (who aren’t in need of Crimestoppers money). • pieces are not usually found until after the death of the collector.

3. The thrill of a challenge: overcoming seemingly impossible odds (i.e. security guards, cameras, impenetrable buildings)

4. Status within the criminal community or the use of the stolen art for leverage in plea bargaining.

5. Love or obsession with art or a particular artist


Where do art thieves strike?
Museums (15% of all thefts)  Galleries  Churches  Private collections

How much money is there to be made stealing art?

The FBI believes that the illegal market of stolen art may net around. . . . FIVE BILLION DOLLARS!

What are the most famous cases of art theft?

Mona Lisa
August 21, 1911: The Mona Lisa was stolen out of the Louvre.  Picasso was brought in for questioning by the police.  French citizens crowded the Louvre to stare at the wall where the painting had hung, thereby ensuring the painting’s fame.  The painting was recovered in two years.

Russborough House – Irish estate

Robbed FOUR times since 1974!


1974: members of the IRA steal 19 paintings worth an estimated 16 million dollars and want to trade the paintings for prisoners. Paintings recovered on a raid.


1986: a Dublin gang stole 18 paintings worth an estimated 60 million dollars. 16 paintings are recovered. Two paintings are still missing.


2001: 2 paintings worth an estimated 6 million were stolen by three armed men. One of the paintings had previously been stolen (1986). Both paintings are recovered in September 2002.
Two days after the two paintings are recovered in September 2002, the house is robbed for a 4th time and 5 paintings are taken. These are all recovered in December 2002.


The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist
March 18, 1990 in Boston, Massachusetts 1:24 a.m.

Two men in police uniforms tell museum guards they are there to answer an alarm. Guards are handcuffed to a railing, museum’s video cameras are disarmed.  Thieves spend over 90 minutes stealing works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet.  15 years later, these works are still missing. A $5 million dollar reward is being offered for their return.

The Scream

Oslo, Norway – 1994  Winter Olympics are opening in nearby Lillehammer.  Two thieves break into the gallery and take a version of Edward Munch’s most famous work.  The gallery alarm is ignored by guards.  Thieves leave a note: “Thanks for the poor security.”  Piece of the frame is left at a deserted bus stop. Masterpiece is eventually recovered.

The Whitworth Gallery Manchester, England

2003: thieves evade video cameras, alarms, and 24-hour security patrols to steal three paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Gauguin worth an estimated 8 million dollars.  Paintings are found the next day, slightly damaged and crammed into a tube placed behind a public toilet.  A note left with the paintings claims the motive to the thieves was to highlight poor security at the gallery.

Infamous art thieves

Vincenzo Peruggia
Former Louvre worker who took the Mona Lisa when the room was empty of guards and visitors.  Tried to sell it two years later. Hid it under the tablecloth when police came to search his apartment.  Claimed he did it for patriotic reasons: wanted to bring Da Vinci’s work back to Italy.  Served one year and fifteen days in jail.

Stephane Breitwieser
French waiter who believed himself to be an art connoisseur.  Admitted to stealing 239 artworks, which he kept in his bedroom at his mother’s house. He never attempted to sell them.  His mom destroyed many of the artworks when she heard of his arrest. She cut some up and threw them in the trash and threw others in the canal.

On January 7, 2005, Stephane was sentenced to three years in jail but will serve only 26 months.  His mother will serve only 18 months.  Around 110 pieces in his collection have been recovered. 60 are unaccounted for and presumed destroyed.