Kim Ho

Art thieves in the movies are always portrayed in very sophisticated and elegant ways: dressed in expensive clothing, acrobatically able to weave their way through laser sensors, quickly disable the security alarms and cameras, steal the most expensive piece of art in the coolest way possible, and escape the museum with ease, never to be found again. And when they’re out, their hair still looks amazing! But back in reality, art thieves are not like that at all, they are wearing comfortable clothes, they would break into a museum in crude ways (sledge hammer, screwdriver, and/or guns), then escape only to be caught by the police later on.

But what happens after a person steal a piece or multiple pieces of art? Referring back to the art thieves on t.v., they usually would have a millionaire buyer already lined up waiting at a loading dock somewhere holding bags full of cash. Then the art thief would sell them the painting, take the money and move to some island off the grid to live out the rest of their life on a beach sipping a tropical drink with a little paper umbrella in it. Back to reality once more, the art thieves who stole the priceless paintings are hiding those pieces in their basement or a storage locker until they could find a buyer willing to pay them stacks of cash for a stolen piece from a crook who is on the FBI’s radar. In the real world, selling a stolen piece of art is really hard to do especially now with the National Stolen Art File (NSAF) which is a database of stolen art and cultural property. (S) The stolen pieces would be submitted for entry to the NSAF by law enforcement agencies here in the U.S. and abroad. The stolen pieces will stay on the database until it is found which makes it so hard for thieves to sell the pieces that they stole years or even decades ago.

Triton Collection Pieces Stolen

In October 2012, Romanians Radu Dogaru, Eugen Darie, and other Romanians were at the time already involved in other criminal acts: prostitution and selling stolen watches. Dogaru, the leader of the group wanted to try new things and steal “great, old art objects” to sell on the black market. They decided that the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, a modern gallery exhibiting 250 works from the Triton Collection that belonged to the Cordias, a wealthy Dutch shipping family, was a good start to their series of art heists. Their main objective was to look out for works that were done by famous artists and were small enough to be carried in a knapsack. In the middle of the night, Dogaru and a man that was a part of his crew named Adrian Procop broke into the museum through an emergency door with a pair of pliers. They encountered no security guards, the pieces were fixed to the walls with wires, the works weren’t individually connected to the alarm system, and the security cameras didn’t cover the door where Dogaru and Procop came in through. The police came moments too late to find seven pieces of the Triton Collection gone. It was an easy heist for Dogaru and his partners to pull off but what they didn’t realize was that the pieces would be extremely hard to sell.

First of all, black market value of pieces of art are usually around 7 to 10% (S) of their actual worth. Secondly, Dogaru stole pieces made by really famous artists, Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Lucian Freud and Jacob Meyer de Haan, the news of their missing pieces would have been all over the press and those pieces would have been put in the NSAF database, making it extremely hard to sell if everyone knew that they were stolen. Which was why when Mariana Dragu, an expert from the Romanian National Art Museum, was hired to authenticate two of the art works for an art dealer and found that they were actually genuine, she figured that they must have been stolen and reported to the police which opened up an investigation of Dragu and his partners. Luckily, Dogaru was tipped off and was a no show to the meeting with the art dealer. Nonetheless, in late January of 2013, Dogaru and Darie were arrested while Procop is still at large.

Mona Lisa Theft

Vincenzo Peruggia was the Italian man who stole the Mona Lisa in 1911. The Louvre hired Peruggia to install protective glass cases for some of their pieces, including the Mona Lisa. Peruggia stole the piece by hiding in a closet until after closing hours, he then carried the piece in its frame and the protective glass that he installed himself into a stairway and slid Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous piece, although it was not famous at this point in time, out of its protective glass casing and his in under his smock and walked toward the door which he found to be locked. That didn’t stop him though, because he got a janitor to unlock it for him. Before the Mona Lisa was stolen, it wasn’t very famous at all but after the news of the theft broke out, it became one of the most famous pieces in history. Because of this, the Mona Lisa was discovered stolen when an artist intended to use the Mona Lisa as his muse noticed that it was missing and asked a security guard as to its whereabouts. The guard merely responded with a shrug and a assumed that it had been removed to be photographed. When he checked the photography studio, it wasn’t there, and the panic began. Conspiracies about who could have possibly hired a theft to steal the Mona Lisa for them flooded the news. Rich American and banking tycoon J.P. Morgan was at the forefront of these conspiracies, since he had a habit of collecting things and went on many shopping sprees in Europe. He, however, denied being the mastermind behind the theft of the Mona Lisa. No one ever figured out who was the mastermind until 1932, 21 years afters the piece was stolen.

What you may not have known is that a con man named Eduardo, who went under the alias Marques de Valfierno, hired Peruggia to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum, but why hire someone to steal it for you if you can’t even sell it or can you? In 1932, a journalist published an astounding confession from Valfierno after his death (S). It turns out that Valfierno have been selling forgeries of famous paintings from the Louvre to wealthy Americans. Which was why Valfierno hired Peruggia to steal the Mona Lisa, he wanted his buyers to have no doubt about the originality of their purchase. But Valfierno had no intention of selling the original piece, instead, he made six forgeries to sell to six different Americans after the news of the theft broke out. Valfierno also told his customers that the museum replaced the painting with a copy to “avoid scandal.” However during the trial after the painting was recovered in 1913, two years after it was stolen, Peruggia admitted to stealing the painting as a way to reclaim Italy’s cultural heritage but nothing about being hired by anyone to steal the Mona Lisa. Even after Valfierno’s confession made headlines, no one came out to say that they have purchased a forgery made by Valfierno, perhaps out of embarrassment that they bought a $100 fake for millions of dollars.

Valfierno is one of the few who was able to successfully profit from a stolen painting. He brought his business to America instead of trying to sell it in Europe where news of a stolen piece from the Louvre was everywhere. He also was able to make more money by making six forgeries instead of just one to sell, he was a very smart businessman. Back then the NSAF wasn’t established yet which made it a even easier to steal a piece from one part of the world and sell it in another part.

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