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Art and Antiques

Most Expensive Art Heists

Ray Arnab / July 7, 2013

Art has been one of the most subtle forms of investment over centuries. Once they used to be decorating pieces or items to showcase royalty that adorned the walls of the rich and the famous. Painting and painters were mainly patronised by kings and monarchs and they mainly painted to satisfy them. Later on there was a renaissance in art and painting as well. Many artists painted with gay abandon to create what they wanted to. Though many of those masters did not find acclaim or recognition during their lifetime, modern times have shown that their work of art has become one of the most lucrative assets. They are not only sought after by museums across the world, they are also sought after by private collectors across the world. When some of the buy these for astronomical sums, many take the darker alleys to fulfil their dream of owning a painting from the masters. This has also led to the development of a band of criminals who specialise in art heists that tend to shake the world. Here are some of the top.

3. Foundation E.G. Buhrle, Zurich; (February 2008) Worth: $163 million

This was and is one of the most daring art heists in the world. In 2008, on February 12th three men walked in the E.G.Burle Foundation museum in Zurich. They grabbed four paintings and vanished in thin air. Interestingly the four paintings included The Boy in the Red Waistcoat by Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet’s Poppies near Vetheuil , Van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Branches and Edgar Degas and  Count Lepic and his Daughters. While the Monet and Gogh were found abandoned later, it was in 2012 that the Cezanne and the Degas were found. All the four paintings had a combined value of more than $160 million USD.

2. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston;(March 1990)

Possibly one of the most daredevil acts, where two men disguised as policemen visited the IsabellaCount Lepic and his Daughters in the little hours of the morning. They not only overpowered the guards, they also took the surveillance tapes of the security camera along with some priceless paintings. The thirteen pieces of exclusive work art that were part of the heist include Vermeer’s “The Concert”, Rembrandt’s only seascape “ The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”,  Manet’s “Chez Tortoni”. A stamp sized self portrait of Rembrandt was also part of the heist. Valued at around $300 to $500 million USD, none of the paintings has been recovered till date, and a prize of $5 million USD has also been offered.

1. Musee du Louvre, Paris;(August 1911)

It was in 1911, that ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo Da Vinci was stolen from the Louvre museum. It was stolen by Vincenzo Peruggia, who was one of the employees at Louvre. Pablo Picasso and French poet Guillaume Apollinaire were questioned by the police, before Vincenzo was arrested two years later. He was arrested while trying to sell the painting to an art dealer in Florence. The painting was returned to The Louvre in 1913 after being exhibited all over Italy. This possibly catapulted the ‘Mona Lisa’ to its modern day status and estimated price of more than $750 million USD.

Art heists have become one of the most common crimes over the last few decades. The rising art prices and some other factors have led to this being a good business, but the unsellable status of these famous artwork fails to deter the miscreants. This is possibly because of the private collectors who are ready to pay a fortune to lay their hands on these classics.

According to an international index for stolen art works, there are more than 350,000 stolen pieces of art most of which is yet to be recovered.

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