Posts Tagged ‘art theft’

Napoelovember: Napoleon and Art

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Besides being a military leader, a statesman, an Emperor, and a “scientist,” Napoleon was also a patron of the arts.

Or at least, he was an art thief and patron of propaganda.

As for the propaganda, Napoleon employed many artists, including some really great ones, to document his victories and achievements in wildly dramatic and heroic paintings. Neoclassicism was all the rage in Napoleon’s time, in no small part due to the fact that Napoleon was trying to recreate a monumental Empire in the classic sense. Here’s some examples of Napoleonic propaganda art:

Napoleon_at_the_Battle_of_Rivoli Jean-Léon_Gérôme_003 David_-_Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps_-_Malmaison1 Bouchot_-_Le_general_Bonaparte_au_Conseil_des_Cinq-Cents 800px-Napoleon_returned

Quelle dramatique!

In addition, Napoleon expanded the Louvre (renamed the Musée Napoléon during his reign) to hold all of the art he stole during his conquests.

Stole? Yes. Napoleon was the first conqueror of the modern era to make art looting standard practice for a victorious army. Stealing art was a way to make money to support the war effort, and also a way to show the power of the French conquerors to audiences at home and abroad. It made the Louvre home to one of the greatest art collections in the world. Napoleon started his looting in Italy, and continued his work throughout Europe and in Egypt, where he amassed a huge collection of ancient artifacts, including the Rosetta stone, which his archeologists discovered.

Here are just a few of the masterpieces that Napoleon’s forces stole:

Paolo_Veronese_008 Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rembrant) 800px-Horses_of_Basilica_San_Marco_bright 431px-Pompeo_Batoni_003

But turnabout is fair play. When Napoleon lost the war, the British collected his spoils. Rather than finding a home at the Louvre, the majority of Napoleon’s stolen antiquities ended up forming the core of the British Museum in London, where they are to this day.

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Famous Art Theft Month – The Scream

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Why does everyone want to steal The Scream?

For some reason or another, Edvard Munch’s The Scream is one of the most stolen artworks in history.  Several versions of it has been stolen, some more than once.

In 1994, four men stole The Scream from the National Gallery in Norway. They left a sign behind that read “thanks for the poor security.”

Security Cameras captured the 1994 theft.

In 2004, thieves stole a copy of The Scream from the Munch museum in Oslo.  During the day.  In broad daylight.  Someone even had a chance to snap some photos of the thieves as they loaded their car.  Really, Norway has got to be a pretty easy place to commit a crime.

The 2004 theft in Oslo.

Luckily, the painting has always been recovered.

Thanks to UPG you can own your own Scream without resorting to crime.  And at our prices, you’ll have to admit that they’re a steal!

Famous Art Theft Month – The Gardner Museum Heist

Friday, May 18th, 2012

The most expensive currently-missing painting is Vermeer’s The Concert.

It was stolen in a daring heist from the Gardner Museum in Boston, in which the thieves posed as policemen.  The Concert was taken along with the only marine painting made by Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and several other pieces of art including ones by Manet and Degas.

Rembrandt's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee"

The Vermeer alone is priced at $300 million.  Do you know where it is?  There’s a $5,000,000 reward in it for you if you do. (Not from us, but from the Gardner Museum. Please do not call or write us.)

Titian’s "Europa"

Oddly, the thieves didn’t bother to steal the most valuable painting in the collection, Titian’s Europa.  There’s no accounting for taste.

Famous Art Theft Month – The Amber Room

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It’s famous art theft month on the PhLog.  Today we’re posting about everyone’s favorite evil villains: The Nazis.

The Nazis were responsible for the greatest quantity of art theft of the 20th century.  Hitler planned a great museum to house what he considered to be Europe’s masterworks.  (Nazis destroyed some masterworks they didn’t consider to be worthy of the title, but that’s another story.)  Paintings and sculpture were appropriated from Jews and museums wherever the Nazis went.  Vermeer’s The Astronomer became one of Hitler’s prize possessions when he stole it from France.  A black Swastika was stamped onto the back of the painting and it remains there today.

To this date Nazi-stolen artwork is still making its way back to its former owners.  In 1995, Edgar Degas’ masterpiece Place de la Concorde, long believed lost, was discovered in St. Petersburg.  (Turns out the Soviets also stole art; in this case, they stole stolen German art).  And after years of litigation Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was only recently returned to its proper owner.

Nazi art-thieving also left a legacy of lost masterpieces, including Van Gogh’s Painter on the Road to Tarascon and the fabled Amber Room (that’s right, a ROOM made of AMBER at the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg).  The Amber Room was made by skilled Prussian artisans in 1716 for Peter the Great and was packed up into crates and removed by the Nazis.  This Russian national treasure, and one of the most unique artworks in Europe, remains missing to this day.

Thanks Nazis!

Famous Art Theft Month – Portrait of the Duke of Wellington

Friday, May 11th, 2012

In honor of the sale of The Scream at auction this month, we’re featuring posts about famous art thefts.

It’s unclear what drives people to steal famous works of art.  Every once in a while the thief demands a ransom for the return of the artwork (a crime known as “artnapping”).  But you can hardly sell stolen major pieces of art on the market, even though there is a weak statute of limitations on some art theft, and apparently it’s easier to unload stolen art in Japan due to their relatively lax laws on this kind of thing. We hear.

The oddest reason for art theft that we’ve come across is the reason retired British bus driver Kempton Bunton stole Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington in 1961.

Goya’s painting had just been bought by a wealthy American, but the British government matched his purchase of £140,000 ($390,000) in order to keep this masterpiece on British soil.

Bunton, a retired civil servant struggling to survive on a meager salary in postwar Britain, was enraged at this government expenditure in a time when so many Britons were just scraping by and decided to steal the Goya and ransom it.  His plan for what to do with the ransom?  Pay for television licenses for the poor. (Yes, in the UK you have to pay the government for a license to watch television.)  The plan failed however, and Bunton returned the painting four years later and turned himself in.  And poor people in Britain have to pay the government TV license to this day.

Famous Art Theft Month – The Mona Lisa

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

In honor of the sale of Munch’s The Scream this last week (a painting that’s been stolen numerous times), we’re posting about famous art thefts throughout the month.

Today’s post is about a painting that became one of the world’s most famous paintings because it was stolen.

On August 21, 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant and Louvre employee, angry that the Louvre was exhibiting an Italian masterwork stolen and brought to France by Napoleon, stuck The Mona Lisa under his coat and walked out the museum.

In fact, unlike much of the Italian art at the Louvre, The Mona Lisa was not stolen by Napoleon, but apparently Peruggia wasn’t into research.

The French police launched an extensive investigation, but they weren’t very good at it.  Blameless luminaries as Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire were arrested.  Peruggia was interrogated by the police at his apartment but was dismissed as a suspect.  If the police had bothered to search his apartment they would have found the painting.

Over the following two years, art lovers gathered by the thousands to see the spot on the wall where the painting used to hang, making it the most popular un-painting in the world.

The Missing Mona Lisa

The theft was solved and the painting recovered when Peruggia showed up in Florence, where he offered The Mona Lisa to Uffizi Museum (or tried to sell it depending on which version of the story you hear).  Expecting a hero’s welcome, Peruggia was instead arrested.  The painting was exhibited in Italy to sold-out crowds and then returned to the Louvre where it hangs to this day.

Famous Art Theft Month – The Last Judgment

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012


A copy of Munch’s painting The Scream just broke the record for a painting sold at an auction, bringing in a whopping $119.9 million dollars.  The Scream has been stolen three times so we thought that this could be a good time to explore the world of art thefts.  This month we’ll be sharing stories about famous art thefts throughout history.

Yes, we know that one could argue that most of the artifacts shown in museums were stolen from someone, but we’re not going to get into that.  Looting has been going on ever since people had things to loot.

The first case of art theft on record was The Last Judgment, a three-panel altarpiece by Flemish painter Hans Memling.  The painting was en route from Flanders to Florence when Polish pirates attacked the ship.  A “pious pirate” donated the art to a church in Gdansk where it remains to this day.