Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Episode 73: Famous Art Heists

This episode came about because Chloe watches to much White Collar! 

Memling, The Last Judgement, 1467-71

The Triptych depicts The Last Judgement which was a very popular subject during this period. It was painted by Hans Memling who worked in Early Netherlandish painting and was commissioned by Angelo Tani for the Medici family. It was stolen by a privateer (brave guy to steal from the Medici) while it was en-route to Italy. There was a rather lengthy lawsuit that demanded the painting be given back Italy. It was eventually given to the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in  Danzig Poland. It was moved in the 20th century to the National Museum. 

da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503-1517

The Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting of all time (seriously with 6 million people who see it every year. I wonder how many tourists go to the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa?) It was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 but the theft wasn't even noticed until the next day. A patron asked the guard where it was and the guard assumed that it had been taken down because it was being photographed. 

Two years later a man offered to sell the Mona Lisa to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Vincenzo Peruggia had stolen the painting because he thought it belonged in Italy. Vincenzo had been an employee at the Louvre and walked in, noticed that the room where the painting hung was empty and grabbed it, removed the frame of the painting and hid the painting under his painters smock before walking out.

Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum

On the night of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves stole 13 works of art form the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Massachusettes.  According to the museum’s website, they gained entry into the Museum by posing as Boston police officers and stating that they were responding to a call. 

The guard on duty broke protocol and allowed them entry through the Museum’s security door. Once inside, the thieves asked that the guard come around from behind the desk, claiming that they recognized him and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The guard walked away from the desk and away from the only alarm button. The guard was told to summon the other guard on duty to the security desk, which he did. The thieves then handcuffed both guards and took them into the basement where they were secured to pipes and their hands, feet, and heads duct taped. The two guards were placed 40 yards away from each other in the basement. 

The next morning, the security guard arriving to relieve the two night guards discovered that the Museum had been robbed and notified the police and museum director. The stolen items included paintings, etchings, drawings, a Chinese vase, and a finial from the top of a pole support for a Napoleonic silk flag.

The museum never gave up the investigation into these stolen works. Thirteen empty frames have hung on the walls of the museum for the past 23 years.

In March of 2013, federal authorities announced they had finally identified the thieves and the criminal organization they were members of. There was an attempted sale of the art 10 years ago, but after that the FBI has limited knowledge of the whereabouts of the artwork.

The Museum continues to issue the call to the holders of the works to conserve them in recommended temperatures and humidity levels.

Nazi Thefts during WWII:

This is a different kind of theft. While normally we think of an art heist as being a singular event the Nazis took acquiring art to a whole new level. It was estimated that the Nazi’s stole 750,000 artworks during the war. The Rape of Europa is a great documentary on this subject.

Murillo, Saint Justa and Saint Rufina, 1665-66

Saint Justa and Saint Rufina was owned by the Rothschilds family and ended up in a museum in Texas after the museum bought it at an auction.

Vermeer, The Astronomer, 1668
The Astronomer, owned by a French man named Edouard de Rothschild was a prized possession of Hitler. After the war it was returned to the Rothschild’s and later donated to the Louvre.

Boucher, The Young Lovers
The Young Lovers was taken from the art dealer Andre Jean Seligmann. The painting was donated to the Utah Museum of Fine Art but was returned in 2004 after the UMFA discovered that the painting had been looted by the Nazi's. 

Munch, The Scream, 1893
The Scream was stolen multiple times. In 1994, the same day as the opening of the olympics, the scream was stolen from the National Gallery, by two men who left a note that said thanks for the poor security. The painting was recovered in May that year.

It was stolen from the Munch Museum in 2004. Gunmen entered the museum and ripped Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "Madonna" off the walls. Two years later they were recovered although slightly damaged.

Tune in next Wednesday when Julia and Carrie will be talking about John William Waterhouse.

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