The top 3 biggest art heists
How do you put a value on something as remarkable, as unique and as ‘priceless' as the Mona Lisa? Art insurance valuations have to do precisely that, and for good reason. Art theft, although perhaps a little less common today than it was 20 years ago, is still a major concern for any gallery or private collector with high value works. Even the Mona Lisa, one of the most protected and secure paintings in the world, has been the victim of thieves. So what are the top three art heists of all time? And what can owners of fine art do to protect their investment?
The Mona Lisa
Let's take a look firstly at the most famous painting in the world. That enigmatic smile, the mystery surrounding her identity – the Mona Lisa is the very epitome of Renaissance Art. In 1911, this priceless work of art was stolen by Italian Vincenzo Perugia, who literally lifted the painting off the wall at the Louvre and walked out with it secreted underneath his smock (it's actually a surprisingly small painting)! Periugia believed that the Mona Lisa belonged back in Italy, but faced a very big problem – how do you sell the world's most iconic painting? Two years later, the authorities were finally able to catch up with Perugia after he tried to sell the painting to a collector. The Mona Lisa was returned to her home in Paris in 1913.
After this sensational theft, the protection of artwork became a major concern for galleries, collectors and auction houses. It could be argued that the theft of the Mona Lisa was the trigger that initiated both advances in security and the development of comprehensive, risk-assessed insurance policies too.
Edward Munch's The Scream
This incredible work of art has been stolen several times – but seeing as there are four different versions of The Scream, it's not surprising that it's regarded as one of the most frequently stolen paintings in the art world! One version has pride of place in the National Gallery of Norway, and another is in a private collection. However, two versions of The Scream are on display in the Munch Museum. In 2004, an audacious pair of thieves literally ripped the painting (as well as other work by Norway's most famous artist) off the wall in front of horrified onlookers and simply walked out with it. At the time, the estimated value of the theft was $19million. The paintings were recovered eventually, but both had been damaged and had to undergo extensive (and expensive) restoration. They were revealed to the public once again in 2008, this time with considerably more stringent security measures in place.
Van Gogh – A highly desirable master
If there's one artist whose work has been stolen more times than any other, it's Van Gogh. One of the biggest thefts of his work was in 1991, when the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was relieved of 20 of his paintings including the iconic Sunflowers and The Potato Eaters, Still Life with Irises, Wheatfield with Crows, and Still Life with Bible. The paintings were recovered just hours later, but had they not, the estimated value of the theft would have been over $200million.
Charles Hamilton-Stubber from Aon Private Clients commented recently:
"In 1987, Van Gogh's Irises sold for a record GBP27 million. In 1987, managing risk and insurance was mainly confined to a family's tangible assets such as art collections. But this has now shifted as families have become more aware of the liabilities that threaten their wealth. Bearing in mind that in today's art market the Van Gogh picture would probably sell in excess of GBP60 million, what lessons can be learnt for family offices in the future?
These top three heists demonstrate just how crucial it is that valuable works of art are properly protected, both with adequate security measure and, to cover the monetary value of the investment, adequate insurance too.