The 5 Largest Art Thefts


For hundreds of years masterful works of art have been targeted by sophisticated thieves operating on behalf of a collector or for their own gain. At first thought it may seem crazy to steal artwork; surely if it is spotted it will be obvious that it is a stolen work?

Well, yes and no. High profile pieces are easy to track and willing buyers are hard to find. On the open market famous works are impossible to sell. Yet buyers do exist on the black market, with some willing to take the risk to see a cherished work hanging privately on their walls. Fine art insurance is therefore vital to protect these masterpieces.

The largest single art theft occurred at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, in March 1990. Over £350 million (or $500 million USD) worth of art was stolen; a total of 13 pieces by masters including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet and Degas. The works have never been recovered and there is currently a $5 million reward for information leading to their safe return.

During the Second World War the Nazi regime stole countless paintings, gold and silver pieces, religious artefacts and ceramics belonging to Jewish owners and occupied countries, acquiring millions of works of art by force and terror. After the war the Allies swiftly returned much of what was stolen, but it soon became obvious that not all of the rightful owners were still alive to receive back their possessions. Today, around 100,000 pieces are still unaccounted for.

Stephane Breitwieser was an art lover who amassed a collection of over 238 stolen pieces of art, worth an estimated $1 billion. Most of these were later recovered when Breitwieser was caught, although in a tragic twist to the tale Breitwieser’s mother destroyed around 60 works in an attempt to conceal her son’s guilt.

In February 2008, the Emile Bührle Foundation in Zurich was robbed of four of its most precious paintings by four major impressionists: Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Cézanne. The loss was valued at $163 million. Two of the paintings (the Van Gogh and the Monet) were later recovered but the other two sadly remain lost.

Somewhat paling in comparison in value to the other art thefts, yet still totalling the significant sum of $55 million, is the robbery from the São Paulo Museum of Art in 2007. Paintings stolen include those by masters Picasso and Portnari, yet thankfully all were recovered by police just one month later.

Whilst some of these incidents have a happy ending it is an inescapable fact that most do not. Despite netting the thieves hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, the loss of these works of art is a tragic loss to our culture, and the millions of people who will now be unable to enjoy them.

Source by Ashton Mapletoft

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