The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum recently announced that it is temporarily doubling the reward from $5 million to $10 million for information leading to the recovery of the 13 artworks that were stolen from this Boston museum in 1990. In light of this announcement, we’ve dug into the past and uncovered the biggest and wildest art heists in history. Get ready for some #throwbacks:
1. Largest Value: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA
The first, of course, is the 1990 art heist of 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Valued at over $500 million, this is the largest valued art theft in history. Two thieves dressed in police uniforms gained entrance into the museum late at night, tied up the security guards who let them in, and then left a little over an hour later with the masterpieces.
The list of stolen artworks includes Vermeer’s “The Concert,” one of only 36 paintings by Vermeer, and Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” his only known seascape, which makes them two of the most valuable stolen items in history. Almost three decades later, empty frames still hang on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, awaiting the return of these artworks.
2. Best Getaway Vehicle: National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm, Sweden
Like something out of an action movie, three thieves entered the National Museum on December 22, 2000, wielding a machine gun. Simultaneously, two cars were ablaze in other parts of the city, set off by car bombs in an effort to distract police from the robbery. Associates of the robbers also placed spikes and nails along the road leading to the museum to prevent emergency vehicles from arriving at the scene of the heist.
These well-prepared thieves left just 30 minutes later, via a red motorboat waiting near the waterfront museum. They made off with a self-portrait by Rembrandt and two paintings by Renoir, altogether worth $36 million, in one of the most elaborate and dramatic art heists in history. However, despite all of their planning, the thieves and their associates were all caught and arrested within 6 months, and the three artworks were eventually recovered over the next few years.
3. Worst Christmas Present: National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico
When the guards arrived at the National Museum of Anthropology on the morning of Christmas in 1985, they were in for a surprise. The glass panels had been removed from 7 display cases and 124 pre-Columbian artifacts were stolen, 99 of which were made of pure gold. Somehow, the thieves had made it past the 8 security guards who were on duty Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t until four years later, in 1989, that investigators were able to identify and arrest the suspects, recovering 111 of the stolen items. Investigators claimed that the only reason it took them so long was because they believed the robbers were professionals. In actuality, the amateur duo were university dropouts who hid the works in suitcases before trying to sell them to drug dealers.
4. Most Altruistic: Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, UK
On April 26, 2003, a group of thieves stole three paintings from the Whitworth Art Gallery: Van Gogh’s “The Fortifications of Paris with Houses,” Picasso’s “Poverty,” and Gauguin’s “Tahitian Landscape.” The next day, they were found rolled up in a cardboard tube that was left outside of a public restroom. Included with the artworks was a handwritten note that read: “The intention was not to steal, only to highlight the woeful security.”
The thieves were able to get past a set of steel-covered doors, alarms, and security guards, all without being captured by the security cameras. It definitely seems like they knew a thing or two about security. The thieves have yet to be caught, but at least the artworks are back, safe and sound. And we think it’s important to note that the Whitworth Art Gallery hasn’t been robbed again. (Maybe they’ve updated their security since then!)
5. Most Brazen: Belfort Museum in Bruges, Belgium
The last time Salvador Dali’s “Woman with Drawers” was seen was seven years ago. On August 18, 2010, a man walked into the Belfort (pictured above), grabbed the unprotected bronze statue, and stuffed it into his bag. Despite the fact that the theft was committed in broad daylight and that there were security cameras and guards, the thief was never caught. We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to see this work of art in person anytime soon, but we have to admit–this was a bold move.
top photo // via @roundedbygravity