Everyone loves beauty, and when that beauty is done masterfully, there is something simply drawing us in. We want to look and admire such objects, and often desire to own them just for ourselves. That is why art theft is so common, and why art is so common underground, even though you can legally trade with it.
During the eons that humans have been making art, most of it has been lost to either time or obscurity. But, there are times when pieces return to us, letting the world admire both history and artwork.
Some of the most famous paintings have been stolen at some point, only to be returned later. In some cases, they will be returned by the authorities while in others this will be done by private auction.
In any case, there was once a chance that we would never again lay our eyes on these masterpieces. But, for now, they are safe and sound, either in private collections open to the public or in museums and conservational galleries.
Theft is not the only reason how paintings fall into the hands of thieves, drug lords, gamblers, and similar shady people. Artists themselves are often drawn to the underground for many reasons and are ached by vices and dreams that only fester in such places.
No great art is made without great suffering. Often, that is the suffering of the artist themselves, and for modern maestros, it is frequently self-inflicted.
In such cases, this art is usually left in the hands of those who assisted in the vices and mistakes, and are only later discovered by collectors and aficionados. The fact that someone lives on the other side of the law doesn’t mean that they can’t appreciate art, and often it is quite the opposite.
#1 The Collection of Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud, the prolific British painter often focusing on portraits and figurative art, is probably best known in the art world for his stunning portrayals of known and unknown people.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Freud was celebrated during his lifetime and valued as a grandmaster, which he was without a doubt.
But, few people know the extent of Freud’s love for gambling in a casino
or betting on horses. Because of this vice, much of his personal collection went to his bookie.
It was only after his death in 2011 that the pieces were rediscovered and either sold to galleries or given by the bookie for public presentation.
#2 La Gioconda – Leonardo da Vinci
When it comes to popular culture, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, best known as the Mona Lisa, is probably the most recognizable painting on the planet. Finished more than half a millennia ago, it withstood the test of time as one of the World’s masterpieces.
The portrait was held by the authorities in France for over 300 years, including both the Kingdom and the Republic, but it came to world fame
after it was stolen in 1911.
It was stolen by a thief, painter, and patriot, Vincenzo Peruggia, who believed that the piece should belong to Italy because it was created by the great grandmaster Leonardo da Vinci.
The painting was disclosed three years later in Florence and was subsequently returned to France.
#3 The Scream – Edvard Munch
The iconic painting by Edvard Munch was stolen twice in a span of a decade. The first successful heist was in 1994, during the Winter Olympics in Norway. Two men broke into the National Gallery and stole the painting.
This frankly amateurish theft was discovered relatively quickly, even though the security system in the gallery wasn’t amazing. The painting was returned three months later, and nobody is still certain why the theft even happened
The theft was in 2004, where masked gunmen barged into the Munch Museum in Oslo and grabbed both The Scream and the Madonna. There were a series of investigations, but the pieces weren’t found.
Only two years later, after a detailed police investigation, the two paintings were found and exhibited in the Munch museum, to the cheers of the public.
#4 Portrait of a Lady – Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt is one of the most famous members of the Vienna Secession
movement and has a very recognizable style. His paintings usually combine modern visual tendencies with traditional techniques, making a beautiful synergy.
The theft of one of his paintings, the Portrait of a Lady made at the end of his life, was a story of intrigue, mystery, and adventure. It was stolen in 1997 and several high-quality forgeries were found through the years. Some plots even included Italian politicians.
At some points, it seemed as the police were playing slots
trying to figure out which of the paintings sold and moved through the black market were forgeries, and which ones were real.
In the end, the painting, rolled into a bed, was found in an overgrown part of the garden in a gallery. Finally, 23 years after the theft, this masterpiece was returned in 2019.