A century of art heists

The theft of a Henry Moore sculpture is the latest in a long, and inglorious, line of stolen works of art, from the Mona Lisa to The Scream. Louise Jury investigates
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Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci TAKEN FROM DRUMLANRIG CASTLE

Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci, said to be worth as much as £50m, was stolen from the Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Castle, north of Dumfries in Scotland, by four thieves in broad daylight in August 2003. The work, which measures 19 inches (48cm) by 14 (35cm), is believed to have been painted between 1500 and 1510 and depicts the Madonna with the infant Jesus holding a cross-shaped yarnwinder. It was stolen in its frame by four men after two of them, posing as visitors, overpowered a female guide. They escaped in a white Volkswagen Golf GTI. Despite some arguments over its authenticity as a da Vinci, it is now on the American FBI's list of top-10 most wanted stolen artworks. Mark Dalrymple, a fine art loss adjustor involved in retrieving the Tate's two stolen Turners and the Marquess of Bath's Titian, was appointed to the case.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci TAKEN FROM THE LOUVRE

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting, was stolen from The Louvre in Paris in August 1911, though recovered two years later. Astonishingly, on the morning it was taken, several employees noticed it was not hanging in the usual place, but assumed the painting had been removed by the official museum photographer to his studio. When it had not returned by the following day, managers were notified and the site sealed off. The entire museum was searched from top to bottom, taking a week. Its frame was discovered on a staircase but nothing more. Two years later, an Italian man named Vincenzo Perugia tried to sell the work to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for $100,000 claiming that he had stolen it out of patriotism. He claimed that a work by such a famous Italian should not be kept in France. What he did not appear to know was da Vinci himself took it to France and sold it there to King Francis I.

Auvers-sur-Oise by Paul Cezanne TAKEN FROM THE ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM

Auvers-sur-Oise, a £3m painting by the Impressionist Paul Cezanne, was taken from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at the height of the new millennium celebrations at the beginning of 2000. Although the gallery had been given an A1 rating by a security adviser a year earlier, the raider managed to clamber up scaffolding and over rooftops on to the top of the Oxford University-run museum. He took out a section from a glass rooflight and dropped down a rope ladder into the gallery, where he let off a smoke canister to obscure the security camera's view. By the time a university porter had seen the smoke and alerted the fire brigade, the thief had disappeared into the New Year's Eve crowds. The exceptionally professional raid had taken an estimated 10 minutes. As is common with many works in universities and other public collections, the painting, measuring 16in (40cms) by 22in (56 cms), was not insured.

Shade and the Darkness by Turner TAKEN FROM FRANKFURT

Shade and Darkness: The Evening of the Deluge and a second work, Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory): The Morning after the Deluge by JMW Turner were stolen from a gallery in Frankfurt, Germany, while on loan from the Tate in London in 1994. A guard was overpowered and tied up while the two paintings, plus a third by the German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich, were snatched. Insurers paid out £24m but would have owned the works if recovered so the Tate took a calculated gamble to pay £8m to buy back ownership. It spent £3.5m on investigating the whereabouts of the works which were worth at least £20m apiece. One was eventually retrieved in 2001 but its rediscovery was kept quiet until the second was recovered a year later. Thieves linked to the Serbian underworld were eventually jailed in connection with the theft. The insurance gamble netted the Tate £17m.


Edvard Munch's The Scream has a troubled history. The 1893 work, measuring just 36in (91cm) by 29in (74cm), was stolen from Norway's National Gallery in 1994 by two men who used a stepladder to climb in, grab it and leave behind a message on the wall: "Thanks for the poor security." They demanded a huge ransom, which the Norwegian government refused to pay - even when the price was dropped. But it was recovered and the thieves arrested, partly thanks to a Scotland Yard police officer impersonating a representative of the Getty Museum in America in a sting involving the offer of a £300,000 reward. But in August last year, two masked robbers with sub-machine-guns shouldered their way through the afternoon crowds, again ripped The Scream from the wall and escaped in a waiting black Audi. The £50m work is still missing.

Fortifications of Paris with Houses by Van Gogh TAKEN FROM THE WHITWORTH

Fortifications of Paris with Houses by Van Gogh, Poverty by Picasso and Tahitian Landscape by Gauguin, three watercolours or gouaches on paper said to be worth between £1m and £4m, were stolen from the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester in April 2003. Thieves had entered the gallery on a Saturday night and the raid was discovered by staff preparing to open up on the Sunday morning. The three works, all highlights of the collection, were subsequently found in a damp cardboard tube at a disused public lavatory a few hundreds of yards from the gallery with a note claiming the theft had been a noble gesture - highlighting poor security. Art experts said it was more likely that the thieves had realised the works would be difficult to sell. They certainly condemned the way they were returned. The van Gogh was slightly damaged as part of it was sticking out of the tube.

Sybille, Princess of Cleves by Lucas Cranach TAKEN FROM BADEN-BADEN

A 16th century masterpiece, Sybille, Princess of Cleves, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, was the most important of more than 200 treasures stolen by Stephane Breitwieser, 33, a French waiter. For seven years from 1995, he travelled Europe on his holidays stealing what he fancied of 16th and 17th century art from more than 50 museums and chateaux, including works by Pieter Bruegel the younger and Watteau. They were stored at his home in Strasbourg, which was unfortunate. When he was arrested in Switzerland for stealing a bugle from a local museum, his mother, Mireille, panicked. She cut up some 60 masterpieces and put them out with the household rubbish or dumped them in a canal. In court this year, his defence claimed none of it was done for profit, just passion. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison and ordered to pay damages.

Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Titian TAKEN FROM LONGLEAT

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, a two-foot wooden panel painted in 1515 by the 16th century master Titian, was worth around £5m when it was stolen from the Marquess of Bath's drawing room at Longleat House in Wiltshire in 1995. It had been originally bought by the fourth Marquess of Bath in 1878. The current Marquess hired a convicted art thief and put an advert in Exchange & Mart to get it back. The original thieves were believed to be a "family clan" or gypsies from Ireland, but they sold it on. It appears to have passed through several hands for comparatively small sums of money before it was recovered, undamaged, in a plastic laundry bag from a man at a railway station in London, in 2002, reportedly after the payment of a £100,000 reward.


The Concert, a rare work by Vermeer, and Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt were among a dozen works of art worth perhaps £200m stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in the world's biggest art heist in 1990. Their modus operandi was simple - the men dressed as police officers, approached a side door of the museum just after midnight and said there had been a disturbance nearby. They told staff they needed to ensure everything was all right inside. Ignoring official guidelines, the guard opened up and he and a colleague were bound and gagged within minutes. The thieves spent more than an hour taking works including a Manet, a Degas and a 3,000-year-old Chinese beaker though not the museum's most prized work - Titian's Rape of Europa. No ransom demands were made and leads and rumours of leads, such as links to the IRA through Boston's Irish community, came to nothing despite a $5m (£2.8m) reward.

The Crucifixion by Salvador Dali TAKEN FROM RIKER'S ISLAND PRISON

The Crucifixion by Salvador Dali, which was valued at about £120,000 20 years ago, was a gift to the inmates of Riker's Island prison in New York in 1965 after the artist missed a visit to the jail. His note of apology promised a "wonderful gift for the prisoners" and he subsequently sent them a large gouache and pen-and-ink sketch of the dying Christ, which was hung in the prison lobby. But, in 2003, a guard noticed that the original had been replaced with a crude copy and it no longer had a gold-leaf and mahogany frame. The jail contains more than 12,000 inmates but word quickly spread that it was an inside job of different variety - by prison warders. In court last year, three pleaded guilty and were put on probation or jailed, but the alleged mastermind was acquitted. The courts heard the work was destroyed when one of the thieves took fright, having realised it would be difficult to sell.