Image Source: WGBH News.
Welcome to your Art Force introduction to Art Heists throughout history. We recognize that you are looking to understand Asset Management for personal / professional purposes. If you are looking to get info on Art Heist techniques, this is not the introduction for you. We have this blog post which discusses legal careers, or perhaps you’d like to visit our careers page or training in Art Consulting instead. We wouldn’t want you to end up like some of the individuals discussed in this blog post!
Stealing the smiling woman: Mona Lisa (1911)
What came first, worldwide notoriety of the Mona Lisa, or her famous theft in late 1911? If the piece of art was well known prior to walking out of the Louvre, this theft just before World War I made her a household name. It all started with a plumber who worked in the Paris Museum named Sauvet unlocking a door for an unidentified man dressed in the Louvre’s conventional maintenance clothes. All that was left after he snuck out cautiously with her famed smile in his smock were a few mounting hooks.
The world was stricken with grief for two years, as curious art enthusiasts streamed in just to see the empty space where the Mona Lisa was hung. The painting was recovered from Vincenzo Perugia, a Italian-born man motivated to return the famed painting to the Italy, mistakenly believing it was stolen by Napoleon suffering from Lead poisoning. Yet, it is commonly believed that a Argentine con-man named Eduardo de Valfiern was the true mastermind and was believed to be selling forged copies of the Mona-Lisa internationally.
Image Source: FT.
The Isabella Stewart Garner Museum Heist (1990)
The Mona Lisa theft was a steal of great significance. Yet, would you believe that the largest property crime in U.S. history was a single incident of art theft? In the morning hours of March 18, 1990, two individuals entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum posing as Boston Police Officers. They proceeded to gain access to the security personnel, tying them up and stealing 13 pieces reportedly worth $500 million. The thieves thankfully missed certain valuable pieces but collected notable works from artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet, and Flinck.
There still has yet to be any recovery of the artworks stolen. Although there is speculation that the paintings had been passed to organized crime figures in Connecticut and Philadelphia, there have been no collection of the pieces. The FBI is still offering a $5 million reward for any information that leads to recovering the pieces in good condition. Many are still perplexed about how two individuals were able to commit such a large scale crime by starting with such a simple request.
Image Source: FBI.
The stolen work:
Vermeer, The Concert
Rembrandt, A Lady and Gentleman in Black
Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Govaert Flinck, Landscape with Obelisk
Manet, Chez Tortoni
Degas, La Sortie de Pesage
Degas, Three Mounted Jockeys
Stockholm National Museum Art Theft (2000)
The individuals in the Boston theft used clever deception to acquire their art pieces. However, in the case of December 2000, we find that certain criminals use more elaborate tactics. In the National Museum of Stock Stockholm, Sweden, three men brandishing guns entered the museum and proceeded to threaten the security personnel and visitors, making their way quickly to specific pieces. In a matter of minutes, they were in possession of Conversation with the Gardner and Young Parisian by Renoir, as well as a self-portrait by Rembrandt. The team of thieves then escaped on a motor boat waiting just outside the peninsula Blasieholmen on which the museum sits. Their ploy didn’t end there, as they chose to escape with diversionary explosions in other parts of the city.
Although it was unexpected and well orchestrated, very soon after the incident the Copenhagen police of were able to identify and convict all ten individuals with their roles in the incident. Four of the thieves, whose nationalities span the world, were caught red-handed while showing the painting to people they thought were potential buyers. All 8 of the men involved in the heist and recovered the stolen artwork. However, this case illustrates the difficulty of the art black market in terms of the resale and the transportation of illegal works.
Kunstahl Museum Robbery (2012)
Image Source: NRC.
Art theft throughout history has always been as much a nuanced art of circumstance and luck as well as an understanding of the variables involved. Even with state of the art sensors, theft can still take place by those educated in their mechanisms. That was the case in the Kunsthal, a museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Private security, as well as police, were alerted to a break in at the museum in late 2012. When the museum was inspected based on the disturbance, it was evident that works by Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, Meijer de Haan, Freud, Monet, and others had all been taken.
The mastermind was named Radu, a 28 year old leader of a criminal Romanian Gang. However, Radu’s mother came out on a later date saying that she put the pieces in a cache, before burning them when the Dutch police began their search. Radu still remains in custody along with two suspected accomplices while investigators still search for missing pieces. Interestingly enough, in 2013 TIME released an article about how the leader of the group was considering suing the Kunsthal for not providing adequate security and in essence, incentivizing crime at the museum.
Notes on the use of RFID scanners in Securing your investment:
RFID technology application, a service which Art Force offers installation for, also serves many companies which design art security measures.“Because the RFID tags can be read through wood frames and most cardboard and plastic packaging, the tags can be placed almost anywhere on the item and be read.” They notably work all day long when most security systems will be deactivated, and function to be cost effective for any person or organization which wants to lock down their artwork without breaking their budget.
Major museums are stepping up to adopt this technology:
There are a number of Art Museums which integrate this technology. The Van Gogh Museum, a notable museum in the Netherlands which displays the work of Vincent Van Gogh and his peers, researched the feasibility of the application within their own exhibits. The digital information stored within the RFID chips helps law enforcement, museum security, or corporate / private art owners to identify the paintings origin and lifespan information.
SmartArt is really ahead of the curve, since few other art providers offer clients an RFID-based solution. —RFID Journal—February 1st, 2012.
With hundreds or thousands of paintings, prints, or sculptures, an organization can lose track of what it has in inventory, and where each artwork item is located. Art Force has opted to offer a more efficient inventory and theft solution by attaching an ultrahigh RFID tag to each piece of art that it sells, and utilizing handheld readers to interrogate the tags, as well as software to manage the location and maintenance performed for artwork.