Art museums are a criminal’s dream because they house art that is as easy to transport as a piece of paper. Art crime can be a lucrative business with billions of dollars at stake annually, second only to drug trafficking. Art theft is one of the world’s most profitable and common forms of illegal trade, earning criminals about $9 billion in profits annually.
While the rest of the world views abortion as exciting Hollywood blockbusters, it is as true as the smile on Mona Lisa’s face. Here are ten of the most profitable fertilizer acts in history.
Related: 10 incredibly strange things people have stolen
10 Panels of the Ghent Altarpiece (1934)
In 1934, two panels of the 15th century Ghent Altar piece by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck was stolen on the night of April 10. The thieves cut the panel in half vertically. The first half was the back, with a grisaille painting of John the Baptist. It was left in a checked baggage section of the Ghent train station as a sign of good faith by the thief who sought a $22,300 ransom for the other side of the panel depicting the Just Judges.
The alleged thief, Arsene Goedertier, who sent an anonymous letter asking for ransom, died before revealing the location of the painting. It remains missing. But this was not the first theft of this 12-panel painting. Over the course of its 588-year history, it – or pieces of it – has been stolen on more than a dozen occasions, including by both Napoleon and Hitler
9 The Mona Lisa Theft and Vandalism
Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa, is probably the most famous in the world and is known for its reputation for art theft and vandalism. Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian carpenter, and two colleagues stole the painting on a train in 1911 and fled. Perugia held on to the painting and at one point put it under the floorboards of his apartment in Paris.
After two years, he tried to sell the artwork to a dealer in Florence in an attempt to bring it back to Italy as a lost treasure. The sale backfired when the dealer called the director of the Uffizi galleries, who retrieved the work and called the police.
The second fertilizer act involving the Mona Lisa was in 1956 when a vandal tried to tear the painting with a razor blade. No damage was done to the painting. In the same year, a rock was thrown at the painting by a Bolivian named Hugo Unjaga Villegas. A chip of paint was knocked off the painting and was later repaired by experts.
In 1974, 25-year-old Tomoko Yonezu, a Japanese woman, tried to spray paint the canvas red. She successfully sprayed between 20 and 30 drops of the paint on Leonardo’s painting, but it was not damaged.
In 2009, a Russian woman smashed a teacup against the painting because she was denied French citizenship. But Mona Lisa is not damaged.
Finally, in 2022, Mona Lisa was mugged during climate change protests by a 36-year-old man disguised as a woman in a wheelchair.
8 Canada’s biggest art heist with 18 paintings (1972)
This heist can be compared to a Hollywood thriller. Thieves entered the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts at 2 a.m. through the skylight. They bound and gagged three guards and made off with 18 paintings and 39 pieces of jewelry. The stolen art included works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Delacroix. The museum has been repairing the skylight, so it is possible that the thieves studied the museum, looking for the best entry point. They stole about $2 million worth of art.
At that time the Rembrandt alone was worth one million dollars. You can imagine the value of the paintings today because, by 2003, the Globe and Mail estimated that the Rembrandt painting in 1972 was almost 20 times its value. They also suggested that the Montreal mafia may have been involved in the robbery.
The paintings have never been found.
7 The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rohn is believed to be Rembrandt’s only seascape depicting Jesus and the miracle of calming the Sea of Galilee. Rembrandt painted The Storm on the Sea of Galilee in 1633, and it is one of the most valuable missing works of art in the world.
The FBI claimed in 2013 that a gang and not one person carried out the theft. However, there has been no announcement about the artwork since then. A $5 million reward has been posted for information leading to the recovery of the painting.
6 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (1990)
Thirteen masterpieces worth half a billion dollars were stolen on March 18, 1990 by two thieves disguised as policemen from Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, Boston; the robbery remains the largest unsolved crime in history, three decades later.
The two thieves stole the works of Edgar Degas, Jan van Eyck, Vermeer and Rembrandt within 81 minutes. The Concert, painted by Vermeer in 1664, was one of the paintings stolen. The piece’s value is estimated at $200 million, and it holds the record for the world’s most valuable and unrecovered work of art.
All efforts to catch the thieves have been fruitless, and the museum has issued a $10 million reward for any information that may lead to the recovery of the art pieces. The combined value of the missing artwork is estimated at $1 billion.
5 A Benvenuto Cellini Masterpiece (2003)
Renaissance master Benvenuto Cellini’s The SalieraA 1543 gold sold cellar sculpture with land and sea, was removed from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in 2003. The process triggered an alarm that was deemed an accident by a security guard.
The value of the artwork was valued at $60 million by Wilfried Seipel, the then director of the museum, who called the theft a catastrophe. Robert Mang, a security expert, was found to be the thief in 2006 after making two attempts to receive $12 million worth of ramslook for the artwork.
4 JMW Turner Paintings (1994)
While insurance is never an interesting subject for an art museum, it played a major role in this heist. In 1994, two JMW Turner paintings were stolen from Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt while on loan from the Tate Britain.
The police in Frankfurt caught and charged the art thieves, but the men had no information about the art’s current whereabouts. The art was insured for 24 million pounds, and the Tate paid out their insurance claim. In a real power move, the Tate bought the rights back to the lost Turners in the hope that when the art was found, they would be the rightful owners of the art.
Eventually the Tate paid several “fees” for information about the missing Turners. And in 2000 and 2002 the Tate finally had both Turners back in their hands.
3 Van Gogh’s Still Life in Giza (2010)
The Mohamed Mahmood Khalil Museum in Giza, Egypt, held the still life of Vincent van Gogh in 1887. Poppy flowers. Although it was almost impossible to steal the artwork, the museum only received nine visitors in 2010 when the artwork was cut from its frame and removed from the institution.
The theft’s success was aided by the painting’s alarm and other alarms in the museum not working that day. The painting is said to be worth between $50 million and $55 million. The piece is still missing to this day.
While some people engage in gambling for the thrill of it, it can also be profitable and earn the individual hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. However, institutions, government authorities and collectors are working together to combat illegal activities.
2 Art forgery
Art forgery is a multimillion dollar business. As a result, more people give up work than the production of other people. Counterfeiting is made possible by the unavailability of dating and verification methods for potential buyers and traders. Then you have the really good forgers who fool even the experts. Without the proper protocols and personnel in place, counterfeiting will always be common.
Some common forgeries prey include Dalu, Picasso, Matisse and Klee because of their artwork’s intense popularity and prolific output. Counterfeiters intentionally incorporate hidden messages or flaws that protect them from future counterfeiting claims. Counterfeiters are known to earn enough notoriety that their fakes become expensive collectibles on their merits alone.
Michelangelo began selling “Roman antiquities” that he carved, aged, buried, and then flamboyantly exhumed. He was caught selling a fake cherub to the pope’s nephew, but his work was so good, and he was already famous, so rather than pay the pipe, it ended up in a success of the scandal and helped his reputation.
The art industry is poorly regulated, making it easy to get away with slimy scams. Larry Salander, a former gallerist in New York, was recently sentenced to six to 18 years in prison for defrauding investors, artists and clients.
He is believed to have earned approximately $120 million using various tactics, such as selling unauthorized works, providing false sales information, failing to inform consignors when a sale occurs, and securing loans and making payments retain rather than transfer it.