Failed Security: Stolen Masterpieces in Real Life and Cinema

Mona Lisa? Check. The Scream? Check. Storm on the Sea of Galilee? Check. The Concert? Check.

These four pieces of artwork have two things in common: each is considered a masterpiece and each has been stolen at least once.


Although some aspects of a piece of art might not make sense to the viewers—why did the artist exaggerate the nose? Why isn’t every line parallel?—most people experience the same positive effects when looking at art. Art viewing activates the brain’s reward system and significantly improves health and contentment while lowering anxiety and depression.


In short, regularly visiting the museum to view art leaves a person healthier, happier, and wiser. But what happen when a museum’s most valuable masterpiece is stolen? What happens when a security system fails and lets crooks successfully run off with billions—yes, billions—of dollars’ worth of artwork?

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar to many art museums throughout the world. In fact, art theft is so intriguing that many movie producers and directors choose to centre entire plots on this particular criminal act. Take a look at some of history’s art heist successes and some of Hollywood’s art heist films.

Reality
When thieves gain entrance into the most secure museums, and manage to make off with the heavily-guarded artwork, it takes the art world by storm. Below are a few dramatic examples.

Artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
It is mid-March, 1990. Two thieves, disguised as Boston police officers, enter a museum and successfully steal 13 pieces of valuable art. Among the stolen pieces include:

  • The Concert by Johannes Vermeer
  • A Lady and Gentleman in Black by Rembrandt
  • Self Portrait by Rembrandt
  • Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
  • Landscape with an Obelisk by Govaert Flinck
  • Chez Tortoni by Edouard Manet

But how did they manage such an extraordinary feat? First, the thieves dressed as Boston police officers and walked into the museum. When stopped, they told the front desk that they were responding to a call. Breaking protocol, the guard allowed them to enter through the security door. Once inside, the “police officers” took control of the only security button and told the guard there was a warrant out for his arrest.

When another guard approached, the thieves handcuffed both, locked them into the basement, and made off with 13 artworks. The museum is still offering a 5 million dollar reward for any information leading to the recovery.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
The world’s most famous piece of art—the Mona Lisa—gained fame in the early 1900s after it was stolen. The thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, hid in a broom closet, snatched the painting off the wall, and walked out with it under his coat after the museum closed. It took two years to find the painting, which was found when Peruggia tried to sell it to the directors of an art gallery in Florence.

Cinema
Lights, camera, stolen? That’s exactly what a few Hollywood directors had in mind when making two of the most successful art heist films in cinematic history.

San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk by Monet – "The Thomas Crown Affair"
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) is one of the most famous and secure art houses in the world. With 17 curatorial departments and over two million works, the Met’s security team doesn’t let anything slide by.

That is, until Thomas Crown enters the picture. In John McTiernan’s heist film “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) quietly steals a Monet. When Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), an investigator who is hired to find the painting, starts to solve the crime, all paths lead her to Thomas Crown.

Pop a bowl of popcorn and sit down to see Crown and Banning banter, kiss, and ultimately flee with an unexpected piece of art.

Cellini Venus – "How to Steal a Million"
In William Wyler’s 1966 heist comedy film “How to Steal a Million,” Nicole Bonnet (Audrey Hepburn) is given the impossible task of stealing her father’s fake Cellini from the Kléber-Lafayette Museum. Why must she steal it? It’s about to undergo a technical examination that will likely result in her father’s imprisonment (he forged it and put a one million dollar insurance policy on the sculpture).

Along for the ride is Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole), an experienced cat burglar who wants to help Nicole successfully steal back the sculpture. This funny and surprising comedy will leave you on the edge of your seat and in tears . . . from laughing so hard.

Whether you prefer to learn about real-life crimes or those that take place in cinema, art heists are one of the most intriguing crimes to read about and watch. If you have valuable items in your possession, make sure you keep them safe and sound with durable, thief-proof locks. Visit your local locksmith in Markham to learn about your options and secure your priceless possessions today.
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