Art in Exile: Stolen Paintings


Art in Exile: a blog series focused on introducing beauty into the social media stream during a season of self-quarantine, social distancing, and a global pandemic.

Imagine a secret gathering place. The people there—maybe two, maybe five—are up to no good. Their plan? Steal art. What art? Some of the world’s most celebrated works. Today’s Art in Exile will focus on stolen art—pieces that have been stolen. Some of the works in this series have been recovered, but some were likely destroyed, like this Manet.

Chez Tortoni, Edouard Manet, c. 1880

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Rembrandt. Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, in 1990. A few years ago, I wrote about this heist, the painting, and what happens to art once it has been stolen. One of my personal favorite essays about a truly fascinating story.

Estimated Value: Over $100,000,000

Status: Missing, unknown

Poppy Flowers, Vincent van Gogh. Stolen in 1977 from Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Cairo, Egypt. Recovered ten years later in Kuwait in 1987, and then stolen again in August 2010, from the same museum in Egypt.

Value:  $50,000,000

Status: Missing, unknown

The Concert, Johannes Vermeer. One of the most valuable paintings ever stolen. It is one of only 35 Vermeers in existence. The Concert was stolen during the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist on St. Patrick’s Day in 1990, along with Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee. The Gardner Heist is the single biggest property theft in American history, at a value of over $500,000,000. This Vermeer alone is worth over $200,000,000.

Status: Missing, unknown

The Scream, Edvard Munch. This one was stolen twice, once in 1994 from the National Gallery in Oslo, and then again in 2004 from the Munch Museum in Oslo. The painting was recovered both times. In 1994 and 2006. 

Value: $110,000,000

Status: Recovered

Painter on His Way to Work, Vincent van Gogh. Taken by Nazis from the Stassfurt salt mines art repository near Magdeburg, in April 1945, as seen in the recent film The Monument’s Men. During World War 2, over 20% of the art in European Art Museums was plundered by the Nazis.

Value: Inestimable

Status: Missing, probably destroyed

Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, Caravaggio. Painted in 1609. Stolen in October 1969 from a church in Palermo, Sicily. Thieves removed this large painting, measuring almost 6 square meters, from its frame and rolled it up in order to get it outside without raising suspicion. 

Value: $20,000,000

Status: Missing, presumed destroyed

Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci. Stolen from the Lourve in August 1911. Recovered in December 1913. The thief kept the painting on the wall in his apartment for 2 years, during which time he painted copies. He was arrested when he attempted to sell the original. The thief spent 6 months in prison and was regarded by many as a folk hero.

Value: $782,000,000 (otherwise, priceless)

Status: The Louvre, Paris

Russ Ramsey
Russ is a pastor and author living in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), and the Retelling the Story Series, featuring The Advent of the Lamb of God (IVP, 2018). His personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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