PARIS – A Rotterdam museum art heist this week netted paintings by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and others — but it's not the first time that money-conscious thieves with an eye for beauty have targeted famous multimillion-dollar canvasses. Here's a look at some top art heists over the decades:
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
In May 2010, in the small hours of the morning at Paris' Museum of Modern Art, a masked intruder made it look as easy as 1-2-3. Taking advantage of a broken alarm system, the thief clipped a padlock, smashed a window and stole a Picasso, a Matisse and three other masterpieces worth $123 million. Fifteen minutes later, the intruder slipped back into the night unnoticed, leaving behind nothing except empty frames. Though his movements were caught on one of the museum's functioning cameras, the three security guards on duty overnight said they "saw nothing." The case remains unsolved.
Zurich police called it an "entirely new dimension in criminal culture." In February 2008, three men, wearing ski masks and dark clothing, entered the Buehrle museum a half-hour before closing on a Sunday. While one used a pistol to force museum personnel to the floor, the two others went and collected four paintings by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet worth $163 million. Shocked police called it one of the biggest heists in European history. Luckily, the van Gogh and Monet paintings were recovered in 2010.
In August 2004, two Edvard Munch masterpieces, "The Scream" and "Madonna," were stolen from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, by three men wielding firearms in a daylight raid. The thieves forced the museum guards to lie down on the floor while they stole off with the works and escaped in a car, which police later found abandoned. The paintings, insured for $141 million, were recovered with little damage two years later.
APPEARANCES ARE DECEPTIVE
In March 1990, two thieves dressed in police uniform fooled staff at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston to pull off the biggest art theft in U.S. history. The pair gained entry at night by posing as Boston police officers and stating that they were responding to an emergency call. Once inside, the thieves handcuffed the two security guards and took them into the basement, where they were secured to pipes and their hands, feet, and heads duct-taped. The thieves made off with some $300 million in art, including works by Dutch masters Vermeer, Rembrandt and French painter Manet. The paintings remain missing. Now, 22 years on, the Gardner robbery remains the largest single property theft of all time.
MONA LISA AIN'T SMILING
It's a heist that helped create the celebrity status that Mona Lisa wields to this day. In August 1911, Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic masterpiece was taken — brazenly — from Paris' Louvre museum. Pablo Picasso was among those detained and taken in for questioning by investigating police. The Louvre mourned as it thought the painting had been lost forever. It took two years to discover the real thief: art historians say a Louvre employee called Vincenzo Peruggia had stolen it by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet and walking out with it hidden under his coat when the Louvre had closed for the day.
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