The Top 3 Worst Art Heists of All Time

Despite hundreds of valuable art pieces being stolen over the years, some art thieves just can’t seem to get away with it.

Thousands of movies involve the stereotypical heist scene. Everyone knows the scene: the hero descends from the ceiling, suspended by a cable into a vault and successfully makes off with the world’s most valuable diamond. Real life heists, however, hardly ever go according to plan. Things go a little wrong and plans get messed up; in the case of these thieves however, things went very wrong. 

“Watch a Sherlock episode, do it better next time,” said sophomore Allison Hoffelder. “If you aren’t going to Irene Adler it, don’t do it at all.”

For many years, a sketch by famous artist Salvador Dali was displayed in a prison on Rikers Island as an apology for canceling a prison art class that he was supposed to teach in 1965. The sketch was originally displayed in the prison cafeteria above the trash cans, where it unfortunately collected a number of ketchup stains. In order to preserve the work, prison officials transferred it to the lobby believing it to be safer there. But in 2003, four prison guards joined forces to fake a fire alarm and distract the 24-hour guard to steal the Dali sketch. While the plan to steal the art was impressive in theory, the execution was far from it. The  New York Times noted that “the fake Dali seemed to have been drawn by a child, one with no artistic talent.” Even more telling, rather than being displayed in its original gold-leaf mahogany frame, the replacement sketch was stapled to the back of the Plexiglass case. Unsurprisingly, the other members of Rikers staff noticed almost immediately and the thieves were soon caught.

Some art thieves aren’t even thoughtful planners. A group of thieves attempting to steal several paintings from South Africa’s notoriously unsecured Pretoria Art Museum abandoned the most valuable of their loot when they discovered it wouldn’t fit into their getaway vehicle of choice: a Toyota Avanza. This art heist bore a striking resemblance to a heist in 2012 when two men in Sweden were also foiled because of the size of their vehicle: an old American Ford.

In 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia simply wrapped the Mona Lisa in his smock, placed it under his arm, and strolled out of the Louvre. However, when this art heist ‘strategy’ was duplicated over a hundred years later in 2014, it didn’t work nearly as well. A man viewing works on display in a British art gallery stopped in front of a painting worth around $900, checked to see if anyone was watching, and promptly proceeded to shove the artwork into his hoodie. Despite not having a well-thought out plan, the man was no quitter. When the art failed to fit under his jacket, he put it underneath his arm and simply walked towards the exit. Naturally, these events were all caught on security camera and gallery staff barred his exit. The man surrendered the painting and fled the scene of the attempted crime.