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Vanished: Nine Audacious Art Heists

If you think art heists are just the stuff of action movies, think again. Whether art is stolen to be sold on the black market or is destined to be displayed in a private collection, art theft is a booming trade. Some of the stories surrounding these paintings’ disappearances are even more incredible than the masterpieces themselves.

Jacob III de Gheyn

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This 1632 painting by Rembrandt, formally known as Jacob III de Gheyn, has earned the ignominious title “the Takeaway Rembrandt” because it has been stolen four times since 1966—more than any other painting on record. The painting, which is housed in London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, has turned up in a taxicab, at a German train station, in a graveyard, and on the back of a bicycle. Apparently taken only for the fun of furthering its legend, the piece has been returned anonymously and unharmed each time. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of a Young Man

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Some experts estimate that the Nazis were to blame for the looting of up to 20 percent of all the art in Europe. Painted by Raphael in 1514, _Portrait of a Young Man_ was stolen from the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland. It was highly coveted by SS officers, who fought over it amongst themselves and shuttled the masterwork between private collections all over Europe. After World War II, the Nazis denied knowing the whereabouts of the painting, and the descendants of the museum’s owners have never been able to track it down. Its whereabouts remain unknown. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Suzanne Bloch

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Pablo Picasso’s portrait of opera singer Suzanne Bloch was stolen from Brazil’s São Paulo Museum of Art in December 2007. As an important work from the artist’s “blue period,” the portrait was valued at around $50 million. It was recovered in Brazil about a month after its disappearance. One problem art thieves experience is that it’s next to impossible to sell a painting that the whole world knows has been stolen. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Last Judgment

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Commissioned in 1467 by an agent of the Medici family in Bruges, the triptych of The Last Judgment, by Hans Memling, was en route to Florence in 1471 when privateers attacked the ship it was traveling on. The commander donated the artwork to a cathedral in Gdańsk, Poland, where it remained for more than five hundred years. The piece now hangs in the National Museum in Gdańsk. Although descendants of the original owners and the city of Florence have begged for the painting to be returned, their attempts to negotiate with the city of Gdańsk have failed. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Madonna of the Yarnwinder

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While touring the home of Scotland’s Duke of Buccleuch in 2003, two thieves posed as tourists and stole Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder in broad daylight. As they took off through a window with the painting, they reportedly told the rest of the tour group, “Don’t worry, love, we’re the police. This is just practice.” The painting was found in 2007 in the offices of one of the most respected law firms in Edinburgh, as a lawyer tried to broker a deal between the seller and a buyer. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Duke of Wellington

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In 1961, the British government spent about $400,000 to purchase Francisco de Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington. A retired bus driver, upset about the expenditure of taxpayer money to buy the painting, stole the portrait from the National Gallery in London and tried to collect a ransom for it, claiming he wanted to use the money to buy television licenses for Britain’s poor. Eventually he turned himself in and served three months in jail. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Concert

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In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men posing as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and, after handcuffing the security guards to a railing, removed thirteen pieces of art, including three Rembrandt paintings, five Degas drawings, a Manet watercolor, and The Concert, by Johannes Vermeer, which, due to its age and the relative scarcity of Vermeer’s works, is considered the most valuable painting ever stolen. It was the biggest art theft in U.S. history, estimated at more than $300 million, and none of the pieces have ever been recovered. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Mona Lisa

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Leonardo da Vinci’s La Gioconda (better known as Mona Lisa) was just another painting until 1911, when a patriotic Italian workman stole it from the Louvre. Vincenzo Peruggia was upset about the number of Italian treasures in the French museum and wanted to return the Mona Lisa to his homeland. It was found two years later, and because of the notoriety of the theft, it became the most famous painting in the world. While it was missing, the Louvre never put up a new painting in the gallery, so visitors were forced to look at a blank spot on the wall. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Scream

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Edvard Munch created several versions of his iconic painting, The Scream, two of which have been the target of thieves. In 1994, as the Olympics opened in Lillehammer, Norway, four burglars broke into Oslo’s National Gallery and stole one version, leaving behind a note that read: “Thanks for the poor security.” It was recovered in good condition just a few months later. In 2004, two men infiltrated the Munch Museum in Oslo and stole yet another rendition of the painting. Although it was recovered with some damage in 2006, it is still estimated to be worth between $60 million and $75 million. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

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