Paintings by the great artists have always been highly prized objects, from the masters of the Renaissance to the Impressionist painters of the 19th century and the surrealists of the 20th. What’s more, some of those who covet such artifacts will resort to theft to get their hands on the objects of their desire.
The Concert by Johannes Vermeer
Painted around 1664 by the Dutch Master Vermeer and valued at $200 million, The Concert is perhaps the most valuable painting ever to be stolen. Its theft was part of a massive heist in 1990, when two men disguised as cops stole 13 paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The artworks were reckoned to be worth a staggering $500 million. What’s more, there’s still a $5 million reward on offer to anyone who helps to retrieve the stolen pieces.
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
Rembrandt painted this dramatic masterpiece in 1633. Moreover, it was the only seascape he ever turned his hand to. Born in 1606, Rembrandt was just 27 when he created this painting, and the work has all the vigor of youth in its portrayal of an angry sea. It was another of the pieces stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the infamous 1990 heist.
Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud
Both giants of the 20th century art world, Freud – grandson of Sigmund – and Bacon were friends for a time, frequenting the drinking dens of London’s Soho district, although they were later to fall out. Freud painted Bacon in 1952. The piece, just 7 inches by 5 inches, was stolen in 1998 from Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie. The robbery took place during a visit by a party of students and the painting was apparently just snatched from the wall. Freud consequently created a wanted poster that was distributed in Berlin.
Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois by Pablo Picasso
This 1911 Picasso painting was stolen from the prestigious Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in an audacious 2010 robbery, during which five high-value artworks were taken. What’s more, the perpetrator, a “heavily disguised, burly figure” captured by CCTV cameras, seemingly acted alone. Neither the Picasso nor the other paintings have ever been recovered.
The Just Judges by Hubert and Jan van Eyck
The Just Judges is one panel from a series of paintings by Hubert and Jan van Eyck from the 15th century, collectively titled the Ghent Altarpiece or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. According to The Guardian, over the centuries this work was almost burnt, before being stolen by Napoleon and later coveted by Hitler. The panel, one of 12, was subsequently stolen in 1934 and has not been seen since.
Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio
Caravaggio is thought to have painted this masterly Italian Baroque work, sometimes called The Adoration, in 1609. Thieves made off with the piece in 1969 from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy. The painting was subsequently valued at $20 million and the FBI is still appealing for information about the theft.
The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Murals by Maxfield Parrish
The 20th century American artist Maxfield Parrish created a series of murals for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s luxurious New York home. After disabling the alarm system, thieves later stole the paintings from the Edenhurst Gallery on upmarket Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. What’s more, the works, which are valued at $4 million, have not been seen since.
Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael
Raphael, one of the pre-eminent masters of the Italian Renaissance, painted this work in 1513 or 1514. As a result of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the painting was moved from the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow to a private home. However, the Gestapo eventually came across the piece and it ended up in Hitler’s own collection. Furthermore, it disappeared at the war’s end. Art expert Lynn H. Nicholas believes that the painting would be worth more than $120 million today.
The Two Balconies by Salvador Dali
This typically enigmatic and complex painting by Dali was created in 1929 and is a fine example of surrealist art. It was part of a haul of artworks stolen from the Chacara do Ceu art museum in Rio de Janeiro at the height of the Brazilian city’s annual carnival. During the 2006 heist, thieves took four important paintings in total, with an estimated value of almost $50 million.
Luxembourg Gardens by Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse painted this gorgeous Impressionist landscape showing the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris in the early 20th century. Moreover, this was another of the four paintings stolen from Rio’s Museu Chacara Do Céu by armed men in 2006. In a bizarre twist, it was subsequently reported as appearing on a Russian auction site, before being removed shortly afterwards.
Marine by Claude Monet
Claude Monet’s Marine is yet another exquisite piece that the armed gang at Rio’s Museu Chacara Do Céu escaped with. The criminals are said to have entered the museum disguised as samba dancers and to have subsequently made their escape through the throngs of carnival revelers. What’s more, none of the four paintings that the thieves took has yet been recovered.
A Cavalier by Frans van Mieris
This charming portrait by Frans van Mieris is believed to be a self-portrait painted between 1657 and 1659 during a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. The piece was stolen from the Art Gallery of South Wales in Sydney, Australia, in June 2007. The thief apparently simply removed the small painting, about 8 inches by 6 inches, from its place in the gallery and made off with it unnoticed.
Pastoral, 1905 by Henri Matisse
Matisse’s evocative Pastoral, 1905 is one of the five paintings stolen from the Parisian Musée d’Art Moderne in 2010 by a solo thief. His haul, which also included a work by Picasso, had an estimated value of around $123 million. What’s more, the paintings have never been recovered.
Olive Tree near l’Estaque by Georges Braque
This colorful work by French artist Georges Braque, painted in 1906 in the Fauvist style, was another of the works taken in the infamous Paris raid of 2010. Yet although none of the five paintings stolen were ever recovered, some justice was done. Indeed, in February 2007 Vjeran Tomic and two associates were convicted of stealing the paintings. Tomic, nicknamed Spider-Man, was consequently sentenced to eight years in prison.
Woman with Fan by Amedeo Modigliani
This intriguing portrait of an elegant woman from 1919 is another of the paintings stolen to order by Vjeran Tomic, none of which have ever been seen again. Antiques dealer Jean-Michel Corvez was sentenced to seven years in prison for organizing the robbery, and Yonthan Birn received six years for storing the stolen paintings. Birn subsequently claimed that he’d destroyed the artworks, but prosecutors did not accept his story.
Poppy Flowers by Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers, completed in 1887, has the extraordinary distinction of having been stolen from the same gallery twice. The first time it went missing from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt, was in 1977. It subsequently turned up a decade later in Kuwait. Moreover, thieves got their hands on it again in August 2010. The painting is said to have a value of more than $50 million.
Waterloo Bridge by Claude Monet
Monet’s Waterloo Bridge was one of seven paintings stolen in a raid on the Kunsthal art museum in Rotterdam, Holland. The 2012 robbery took place at 3:00 a.m. and although the alarms did go off, police subsequently arrived too late to apprehend the thieves.
Femme devant une Fenêtre Ouverte, Dite la Fiancée by Paul Gauguin
This painting by Gaugin from 1888 was another of the works stolen during the theft from the Rotterdam Kunsthal. What’s more, none of the works has been recovered and their fate remains something of a mystery. However, the mother of one of the Romanian men charged with the robbery has claimed that she had burnt the paintings.
Woman with Eyes Closed by Lucian Freud
Another painting that fell prey to the Rotterdam Kunsthal gang was this portrait by Britain’s Lucien Freud. One of his works, Benefits Supervisor Resting, sold at auction in New York for $56.2 million in 2015. That gives you at least an idea of the value of this stolen artwork.
La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune by Henri Matisse
This portrait of a pensive woman was painted by Matisse in 1919 and stolen from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in October 2012. Three Romanians were subsequently arrested for the theft in January 2013. Yet despite that, the case has never been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Furthermore, the whereabouts of the seven paintings taken remains a mystery.