Why steal famed paintings instead of simply robbing a bank?

In a previous post I attempted to expand upon the incentives underlaying  the act of purchasing unimaginably high-priced pieces of art,  as well as exploring the personalities of the people who would indulge in such investments. Yet equally fascinating seem to me the impulses that make people acquire the chefs d’œuvres through rather illicit methods.

This BBC documentary forwards a most conspicuous yet somehow overlooked question: ‘Why would people steal something so highly recognizable and ultimately challenging to sell instead of simply robbing a bank?‘. Indeed, why would they? Or at least shouldn’t they lay their hands on something that is not so famed? However records show how the more valuable and renowned a piece of art is, the more likely it is to get stolen.

So does this imply that the thieves are connoisseurs, or at least work for someone in the field? In point of fact they don’t. Surprisingly they are generally ordinary criminals who would like to get hold of something a bit more exciting than solely money. Nevertheless it is not at all a matter of individuals, but rather of compact groups that do it for ownership and status. Art has become a widespread criminal currency, sometimes being devalued in common drug or weapon trades.

Cunningly planned and flawlessly executed, the art thefts deprive us of some of the most valuable artworks. Even if organisations such as The Art Lost Register  or programs such as the Art Crime Department  strive to track them down, sadly no more than around 15% of the stolen works ever return to the rightful owners. For instance, Connor Myles, Boston’s most notorious art thief, returned a $1 million  Rembrandt for a substantial cash reward. But such isolated cases don’t occur too often, given the anxiety of being acknowledged after succumbing to the cash rewards.

4 still missing masterpieces and the stories behind

1.Caravaggio’s “Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco”


Unlike the rest of the stolen paintings in this list, this one was not exhibited in a museum, but in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy. For a few days before the hit its location had been incessantly advertised on TV, which haplessly notified the greedy stealers.

It is not surprising that given its incontestable fame, Caravaggio’s Nativity was genuinely impossible to sell. Therefore, it is rumored that it has stayed for many years in the mob gallery, right where they used to gather to plan their next crimes. This symbolized their utmost success and fed their superciliousness. Another rumor has it that around 30 years later, after deciding it’s not useful anymore, they mercilessly burned  it down.

2.Rembrandt van Rijn’s Storm of the Sea of Galilee


This one got stolen along with other unique 12 paintings in what is known as “The Gardner Museum theft” (1990). The method employed was a rather shrewd one. Dressed as policemen, the malefactors had no trouble in getting in the museum and subsequently handcuffing the guards and trapping them in the basement.

 The FBI investigation into the crime is still open, with a $5 million reward on offer for information leading to finding the paintings in good condition.

3.Cézanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise


 The timing couldn’t have been better: on the brink of the New Year’s Eve, who would dare conceive the possibility of such an outrageous deed? While the Oxford revellers were gazing at the fireworks and merrily sipping from their champagne glasses, somebody seized the ideal opportunity to steal Cezanne’s masterpiece from the Ashmolean Museum. “View of Auvers-sur-Oise” is  valued at nearly $5 million

4.”The Concert” by Johannes Vermeer


Stolen in perhaps the most famous art heist in history along with Caravaggio’s Nativity, “The Concert” is thought to be the most highly valued stolen work of art in the world, worth around $200 million.


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