25 Biggest Art Heists Of All Time

Posted by , Updated on April 24, 2024

Are you intrigued by real crime stories? Do you harbor a passion for artworks? Brace yourself as we are set to mesmerize you by merging these two elements – real crime and art. Get your snacks ready; we’re about to dive into the 25 Greatest Art Heists Of All Time, listed in chronological order!

Here are the 25 Biggest Art Heists Of All Time


The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring Heist - 2020

The Parsonage Gardenhttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/van-gogh-singer-laren-museum/

Here is another heist involving the work of Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring. 

While the Singer Laren Museum, located in the Netherlands, was shut down due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, one thief decided to take advantage of the situation.

The criminal took a sledgehammer to break into the museum and got past security.

While the thief was eventually caught and sentenced to 8 years in prison, the priceless painting has yet to be found.


The Dresden Art Jewelry Heist - 2019

The Dresden Art Jewelryhttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

This heist is one of the biggest ever and is also one of the quickest.

In the course of about 60 seconds, thieves cut power, smashed through a glass display case using an axe, and made off with an estimated $1.2 billion (not million, but BILLION) in jewels.

These stolen jewels include the 49.84-carat Dresden White Diamond. As of 2020, only 4 arrests have been made, yet none of the jewels have been recovered.


Jose Capelo Private Collection Heist - 2015

Jose Capelo Private Collectionhttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/ducal-palace-raphael-piero-della-francesca-1975-stolen/

Imagine going on vacation and having over $33 million dollars worth of artwork stolen! That’s exactly what happened to Jose Capelo, who was friends with British artist Francis Bacon.

Seven arrests were made, but only 3 of the 5 paintings taken have been recovered.


Kunsthal Museum Heist - 2012

Kunsthal Museum

At a Dutch museum in Rotterdam, thieves were able to lift works by artists Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, and Lucian Freud.

The heist was pulled off in a mere 3 minutes!

What’s more? The mother of one of the 5 suspects arrested claims to have burned the paintings. However, investigators are not sure she’s telling the truth, based on forensics.


Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum Heist - 2010

Mohamed Mahmoud Khalilhttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

If you are a big fan of Van Gogh’s work, you’ll know of the painting Poppy Flowers.

Criminals got away with stealing this $50 million painting simply because of faulty alarm and security systems. Three security guards were arrested and 11 cultural ministry employees resigned as a result.

The painting has yet to be found.


Musée d’Art Moderne Heist - 2010

Musée d’Art Moderne Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

This heist was pulled off by a man who became dubbed, “Spider-Man”. Art thief Vjeran Tomic used some sort of acid on a window, which allowed him to quietly enter and lift Matisse’s Pastorale. 

When he realized no alarms went off, he also helped himself to works by 4 other artists.

He was eventually caught and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The artwork was never found.


Museu de Arte de São Paulo Heist - 2007

Museu de Arte de São Paulo Heisthttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/gustav-klimt-portrait-stolen-galleria-darte-moderna-italy/

Here’s another heist that showed need for increased security.

The thieves used a hydraulic lift, a crowbar, and knowledge of guard shift changes to make off with $50 million worth of paintings (two works by Portinari and Picasso).

The art was recovered a few weeks later when a suspect told investigators where the paintings were being kept.


The Reclining Figure Heist - 2005

The Reclining Figure Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

Still unknown thieves wanting to cash in on a flourishing scrap metal market are responsible for this heist.

This $18 million bronze monument weighed 2 tons and was on display at Henry Moore’s (the artist) foundation in Hertfordshire, England.

It’s unknown how the criminals made off with a work of art of that weight and size.

In 2009, investigators announced they believed that the figure was dismantled, melted down, and sold for about £1,500 worth of bronze.


The Whitworth Art Gallery Heist - 2003

The Whitworth Art Galleryhttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

You have to admire people who go great lengths to prove a point. Okay, well, maybe you don’t, but still…apparently that was the purpose of this particular heist.

Three paintings “went missing” from the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester; one by Van Gogh, one by Gauguin, and one by Picasso.

The paintings were found only a few days later, and where they found them is what makes this heist so epic. They were found in a cardboard tube and stuck in a graffitied toilet only 650 feet from the gallery.

The culprits, who have yet to be discovered, left a note that read, “We didn’t intend to steal these paintings, just to highlight the woeful security.”

The paintings only had minimal damage and were quickly put back on display.


The Kunsthistorisches Museum Heist - 2003

The Kunsthistorisches Museumhttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini sculpted a piece called The Saliera. This golden statue depicts Land and Sea ruling over their wealth, and is valued at a cool $60 million.

The culprit? A security expert who focused on alarm systems, Robert Mang.

While Mang triggered an alarm, the guard thought it was accidental.

Mang was caught when he tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the sculpture. The Saliera was then recovered from a metal container in a woodland near Vienna.


Vincent van Gogh Museum Heist - 2002

Vincent van Gogh Museumhttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/whitworth-art-gallery-van-gogh-stolen-toilet/

How would you celebrate the 150th birthday of a famous Post-Impressionist artist? Someone like say, Vincent van Gogh? Well, probably not by having two of his earliest works stolen from your museum that’s specifically dedicated to him.

Thieves broke in through a window and some how made off with two of Van Gogh’s paintings.

The paintings were finally found in 2016 in a farmhouse near Naples, Italy.

Arrests were made after a connection was made with the Camorra Mafia.


Sweden's National Museum Heist - 2000

Sweden's National Museum Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

Seven years after the Moderna Museet, three works by Renoir and Rembrandt were taken from the National Museum in Stockholm after thieves armed with a machine gun entered, caused complex distractions, and got away with the art.

One of the Renoirs was recovered in 2001 during an unrelated drug raid, and in 2005, authorities caught criminals trying to sell the Rembrandt for $42 million.


Portrait of a Lady Heist - 1997

Portrait of a Ladyhttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/montreal-museum-of-fine-arts-1972-theft/

As the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Piacenza, Italy, was preparing for a show, the painting Portrait of a Lady, by Gustav Klimt, disappeared. This painting has historical significance to art historians as it’s the only known work that Klimt painted over midway through working on it.

It wasn’t until the end of 2019 that the painting was discovered. It was found hidden in a trash bag tucked behind an outside panel on the gallery building!

While the culprits are still at large, two men confessed the crime to an Italian journalist. Apparently they had returned it 4 years after taking it. It was returned “as a gift to the city.”


The Scream Heists - 1994 & 2004

The Scream Heistshttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

Edvard Munch’s 1893 work of art, The Scream, has been stolen twice, 10 years apart. In 1994 on the first day of the Winter Olympics, one version was taken from the National Gallery in Oslo. It was recovered in 1996, and four arrests were made, including that of Paal Enger, a famed art thief. (Enger escaped in 1999, but was caught days later.)

A different rendition of The Scream was stolen 10 years later, in 2004, when robbers held security at gunpoint and made off with the painting. This painting, from the Munch Museum in Oslo, was recovered in 2006.


Schirn Kunsthalle Heist - 1994

Schirn Kunsthallehttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

In Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle, art thieves blindfolded and chained security officers and stole two paintings by J.M.W. Turner, on loan from the Tate Museum, and a Casper David Friedrich painting, on loan from Kunsthalle Hamburg. Arrests were made shortly after the heist, but it took more than 10 years to recover the stolen pieces.

In 2000, it was said that the Turners were being held by the Serbian mafia. However, in 2002, the Tate admitted that they had recovered the Turners and pocketed £38 million from an insurance ploy. Then in 2003, the Friedrich was recovered with the help of a lawyer working with the thieves.


Moderna Museet Heist - 1993

Moderna Museet Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

One of Sweden’s greatest art robberies involved the theft of paintings by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso from the Moderna Museet.

The 6 works by Picasso and 2 from Braque were valued at an estimated $60 million.

How did the criminals pull off the robbery? By cutting a hole in the roof and lowering themselves down in the main exhibit hall, of course! It’s unsure how they got past the alarms and security, although there is much speculation.

The paintings were eventually recovered and the criminals prosecuted.



The Isabella Stewart Gardner Heist - 1990

The Isabella Stewart Gardnerhttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

This is the largest art heist in history involving paintings. 13 pieces of art were taken, including works by Rembrandt, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, and Johannes Vermeer. In total, the paintings were worth a jaw-dropping $500 million!

The art thieves got away with the heist by impersonating police officers, tying up security guards, and loading up their loot in a run down hatchback outside.

It’s not sure where these paintings are or who was responsible.


Musée Marmottan Heist - 1985

Musée Marmottan Heisthttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/musee-marmottan-monet-impressionist-works-stolen/

Why break in through a window or drop down from a hole you cut in the roof when you can just buy a museum ticket and walk in like everyone else?

That’s exactly what these robbers did, right before holding 9 security officers and 40 visitors at gun point as they pulled 9 paintings off the wall.

The paintings were valued at $20 million at the time and included works by Renoir, Morisot, and the iconic Monet, Impression, Sunrise. 

Five years later, all 9 pieces were discovered in a villa in Corsica, and seven arrests were made.


Mexican Archeological Museum Heist - 1985

Mexican Archeological Museum Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

This art heist has a 2018 movie based off it, Museo, and is famous for being pulled off by two college dropouts involved with a drug cartel.

The thieves canvassed the museum at least 50 times and made off with 124 pieces including the jade death mask of a Mayan emperor.

The robbers were eventually caught and some artifacts recovered.


Ducal Palace in Urbino Heist - 1975

Ducal Palace in Urbino Heisthttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/ducal-palace-raphael-piero-della-francesca-1975-stolen/

One way to test your security system is by having someone try – and succeed- at stealing something. The Ducal Palace in Urbino was considered to be one of Italy’s most secure art places, even though it didn’t have an electronic system at the time.

However, thieves got away with three works by Renaissance painters Raphael and Piero della Francesca.

The paintings were recovered a year later in Locarno, Switzerland.


IRA Heist - 1974

IRA Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

Most heists are about the thrill, the challenge, and of course, the money. However, this heist was mostly political.

There were some members of the IRA in custody for vehicle bombs, so militants from the group orchestrated the theft of $20 million worth of paintings from the home of Sir Albert Beit, a British politician. Paintings were by Johannes Vermeer, Peter Paul Rubens, and Francisco Goya.

They then held Beit hostage and demanded the release of those in custody.

Three of the paintings were later discovered in the home of Bridget Rose Dugdale, daughter of a British tycoon.


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Heist -1972

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

This heist has blockbuster-movie level vibes. At two in the morning, thieves entered through a skylight, bound and gagged the guards, and got away with 39 pieces of jewelry and 18 paintings.

The value of all that was stolen was $2 million, and that was in 1972. In 2003, it was estimated that just one of the paintings, a Rembrandt, was worth $20 million. There’s thoughts that the Montreal mafia was involved.

Only a few pieces have been recovered.


Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence Heist - 1969

Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence Heisthttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/the-scream-2004-theft-munch-museum/

This painting by Caravaggio was stolen from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy, and has yet to be recovered.

Theories about what happened to the painting range from rats or pigs eating it to the Mafia’s involvement.

In 2017, investigators found a new clue related to a Swiss art collector who advised the thieves to destroy it as no one would buy the famous piece. However, those working the case think it may still be hidden somewhere.

A replica was commissioned in 2015.


Jacob de Gheyn III Heist - 1966 (and 1973, 1981, & 1983)

Art Heistshttps://www.artnews.com/list/art-news/artists/greatest-art-heists-of-all-time-1234583441/dulwich-picture-gallery-theft-old-masters-rembrandt/

This work of art by Rembrandt was once labeled the “Takeaway Rembrandt” by the Guinness Book of World Records because it had been stolen so many times.

When it was taken in 1966, it was stolen along with two other Rembrandts and works by Gerard Dou, Adam Elsheimer, and Peter Paul Rubens.

It didn’t take authorities to recover the paintings, however, and while this work was stolen several other times, it’s still on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.


The Mona Lisa Heist - 1911

The Mona Lisa Heisthttps://artincontext.org/art-heists/

In the earliest heist on our list, we start off with a real bang. When you think of famous art, one of the first pieces that comes to mind is probably the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci.

Part of the reason this painting is so famous is the publicity surrounding its theft from the Louvre in 1911.

An Italian carpenter by the name of Vincenzo Peruggia hid in a cupboard with two of his collogues before taking off with the famous lady. Because the case made major news, Peruggia wasn’t able to sell it. 28 months later, when Peruggia tried to sell the painting to an art collector from Florence, the collector called the authorities.

So which heist do you think was the most astonishing? Did we satisfy your need for true crime meets art?

Photo: 1. artincontext.org, The Mona Lisa Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 2. www.artnews.com, Jacob de Gheyn III Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 3. www.artnews.com, Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 4. artincontext.org, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 5. artincontext.org, IRA Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 6. www.artnews.com, Ducal Palace in Urbino Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 7. artincontext.org, Mexican Archeological Museum Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 8. www.artnews.com, Musée Marmottan (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 9. artincontext.org, The Isabella Stewart Gardner (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 10. youtube.com, Moderna Museet Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 11. artincontext.org, Schirn Kunsthalle (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 12. artincontext.org, The Scream Heists (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 13. www.artnews.com, Portrait of a Lady (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 14. youtube.com, Sweden's National Museum Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 15. www.artnews.com, Vincent van Gogh Museum (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 16. artincontext.org, The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 17. artincontext.org, The Whitworth Art Gallery (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 18. youtube.com, The Reclining Figure Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 19. www.artnews.com, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 20. youtube.com, Musée d’Art Moderne Heist (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 21. artincontext.org, Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 22. Jeffrey Beall, Kunsthal Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0, 23. www.artnews.com, Jose Capelo Private Collection (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 24. youtube.com, The Dresden Art Jewelry (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 25. Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden (Public Domain)