In the early hours of Vincent van Gogh's birthday, March 30, one of his prized paintings was stolen from the Dutch museum Singer Laren (happy 167th, van Gogh). The theft appeared to be a smash-and-grab from the museum's front entrance, with the thieves breaking the glass at 3:15 AM and taking only van Gogh's 1884 work, "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884," which was on loan to Singer Laren from the Groninber's Museum permanent collection.
Later that day, the museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm said at a press conference, "I am extremely pissed off that this happened; this is a huge blow. This is extremely difficult, especially in these times." The museum had been closed to the public due to ongoing health concerns.
The painting's value is unknown, but previously stolen van Gogh paintings have been valued at $50 million. Sadly, art crime pays. From fraud to looting and stealing works of art, art crime was once called "the biggest criminal enterprise in the world." The FBI, which tracks art crime in their National Stolen Art File database, also called NSAF –which absolutely needs to be the title of CBS's next procedural crime drama–has estimated that art crime generates at least $6 to $8 billion each year.
Who commits art crime? Are there patterns that can point to where or when thieves will strike? When art crime experts looked over the world's history of art thefts, they pinpointed that the day and time when most incidents occurred was Wednesday afternoon. In light of that, many museums made a point to tighten security each week.
So while we wait for esteemed art crime experts to track down van Gogh's lost painting, let's take a look at some of the most famous (and unsolved) cases in the world (Hint: Keep an eye out on holidays, as most of these occurred during a celebration!)
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist (Massachusetts, United States)
On St. Patrick's Day in 1990, 13 pieces of art valued at $500 million were stolen in the very early hours of the morning. Two individuals disguised as police officers tricked the security guard into allowing them to enter, at which point they disabled the alarm and restrained the guards. Among the stolen pieces were paintings by Degas, Vermeer, Monet, and Rembrandt. The heist remains the art world's greatest unsolved mystery to this day.
"Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence" by Caravaggio (Palermo, Italy)
Painted in 1609 by the Italian painter Caravaggio, "Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence" has been missing since 1969 when it was stolen from the Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo. Two individuals cut the painting out of its frame walked out with it rolled it up in a carpet. Valued at $20 million, the work has never been recovered. In 2015, a commissioned replica took its place in the museum.
"View of Auvers-sur-Oise" by Cézanne (Oxford, England)
Painted by Paul Cézanne in the 1870s, "Views of Auvers-sur-Oise" was stolen on New Year's Eve in 1999. A thief broke into the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during the fireworks celebration and stole the painting, which is valued at over $3 million. The theft of the Cézanne is currently one of the FBI's top 10 art crimes.
Four Missing Pieces from Museu Chacara Do Céu (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil)
Another famous heist on the FBI's list of top ten art crimes is the armed theft that took place at the Chácara do Céu Museum in 2006. On the first day of Carnival, four men (though one is thought to be a teenager) managed to overpower the security guards within just five minutes. For 30 minutes, they held visitors and staff hostage long enough to steal four prized paintings: Salvador Dali's 1929 "Two Balconies," Henri Matisse's 1905 "Luxembourg Garden," Pablo Picasso's 1956 "Dance," and Claude Monet's 1880-1890 "Marine." The museum had very little security at the time, and the thieves simply took them off the wall. The value of all four paintings has been estimated to be anywhere from $10 million to $50 million.
“Vase with Poppies” by Vincent van Gogh (Cairo, Egypt)
Sadly, "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884" is not the only van Gogh work that is currently missing. This 1887 still-life was stolen from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo in 2010. At only 25.6" x 21.3", its small size made it unfortunately easy for the thief to steal. The painting is valued at $50 million (oddly, it was previously stolen in 1977 but later recovered in Kuwait).