Art theft: these cases went down in history

Art theft
These cases went down in history

In 2019 two art thieves broke into the Green Vault – the treasury of the Dresden Residence.

© imago images/Max Stein

In 2019, thieves stole precious jewels from Dresden’s Green Vault. These are Europe‘s most famous cases of art theft.

On November 25, 2019, there was a spectacular robbery in the Dresden Green Vault. Two men got into the treasury of the Residenzschloss and stole three jewelery sets set with precious stones. The perpetrators managed to escape and later set the escape vehicle on fire. However, almost a year later, the police succeeded in arresting three suspects in a major raid in Berlin. But there is no trace of the jewels. It is far from the only case of art theft worth millions in Europe. After all, most of the crimes have now been solved and the loot is back in the museum.

Nine works from the Brücke Museum

In April 2002, nine works of art were stolen from the Berlin Brücke Museum. The perpetrators manipulated the alarm system and smashed a window to get into the building. All the stolen works came from famous expressionist painters: six pictures by Erich Heckel and one each by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein were lost, their total value was more than 3.5 million euros. The perpetrators were initially able to flee, but did not go undetected for long. Four weeks after the crime, the police arrested four men and one woman during a home search and seized all nine pictures.

The biggest art theft in Europe

Art worth 180 million Swiss francs (the equivalent of around 166 million euros) was looted by thieves from the EG Bührle art collection in Zurich’s Seefeld district in February 2008. Three masked men entered the villa in the late afternoon, neither visitors nor staff were injured. They took four valuable oil paintings with them: “The boy with the red vest” by Paul Cezanne, “Blossoming chestnut branches” by Vincent van Gogh, “Field of poppies near Vetheuil” by Claude Monet and “Ludovic Lepic and his daughters” by Edgar Degas. The police called it the “biggest art theft in Europe“. A week later, the pictures of Monet and van Gogh reappeared in a stolen car in Zurich, the other two were bought back in 2012 in Serbia with faked ransom.

Mona Lisa went traveling

In 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa fell into the hands of a thief. The Italian craftsman Vincenzo Peruggia worked in the Louvre in Paris and took the opportunity to steal the picture. He hid in a closet and locked himself up in the museum overnight. He removed the picture from the frame and smuggled it out of the building the next day. Almost two years later, Peruggia tried to sell the picture in Florence and was arrested. The thief’s motivation was evidently to bring the painting to his “Italian homeland”. The Mona Lisa’s robbery added a lot to her fame in the early 20th century.

Two paintings for 75 million euros

In August 2004 two armed men stormed into the Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo during the day and left it with the paintings “The Scream” and “Madonna” by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. Together, the two plants were worth around 75 million euros. Two years later the pictures reappeared, unfortunately in poor condition. However, restorers were able to largely repair scratches, stains and holes. The two robbers and the driver of the escape vehicle were caught and sentenced to several years in prison and a compensation payment of around 200,000 euros.

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