In 1472, Polish pirates managed to board a ship that was en route to Florence, Italy. They stole an intricate triptych – The Last Judgment – by Dutch painter Hans Memling, and spirited it back to their homeland. This incident is considered to be the first recorded art heist.
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Today, The Last Judgment resides safely at the National Museum in Gdansk, Poland. But many other great artworks have not had a happy ending. Here are some art heists that shocked the world:
1. The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring
In March 2020, most major museums around the world closed their doors to visitors amid a growing COVID-19 pandemic. The Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands was one of them. But the lockdown worked in the favour of an art thief, who managed to steal an early Vincent van Gogh painting from the museum. He broke in with a sledgehammer and was able to get past various levels of security to seize the painting that had been on loan from another Dutch institution, the Groninger Museum. Even today, the van Gogh painting has not yet been recovered.
2. The Scream
Norwegian painter Edvard Munch created several versions of his famous work, The Scream, and it’s a good thing he did, because two of them have been pilfered over the past two decades. In February 1994, four men stole The Scream after breaking into the National Art Museum in Oslo. They left behind a note that read: “Thanks for the poor security.” However, the painting was recovered about three months later, thanks to a sting operation by the authorities. A decade later, in 2004, two masked robbers held tourists and employees at gunpoint in Oslo’s Munch Museum and tore off two of Munch’s paintings – The Scream and The Madonna – off the wall. When the artwork was recovered in 2006, the police found that both paintings had sustained both tearing and water damage.
3. Conversation, Young Parisian and Rembrandt’s self-portrait
A daring heist in December 2000 saw the theft of three paintings – with a combined total of $45 million (Dh165 million) – from the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm, Sweden. A gang of thieves used multiple tactics to successfully make away with Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn’s self-portrait, and French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Conversation, and Young Parisian artworks. One gunman threatened museum security staff, while two others filched the paintings. In other parts of the city, accomplices blew up cars to keep the local police busy. The burglers then jumped into a getaway speedboat next to the waterfront museum, and disappeared. However, thankfully, by 2005, all three missing artworks were recovered.