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Stop! Art police!


With the theft of two signed Damien Hirst art works worth £33,000 from a gallery in Notting Hill announced this morning (11 December), we take a look at the most sensational and brazen art raids in history.

From James Bond-style daylight robbery to sneaking in through toilet windows and posing as tourists, thieves have used all manner of techniques to get their hands on timeless masterpieces, many worth of hundreds - or even millions - of pounds. Discover more below...

Picture credits: Getty Images and Rex Features

The One with the car bombs

In December 2000, three masked men armed with machine guns raided the waterfront Swedish National Museum in Stockholm. While their accomplices elsewhere in the city set off two car bombs and laid down tyre spikes around the museum to distract the police, the robbers made off with two Renoirs, Young Parisian and Conversation with the Gardner, and a self-portrait by Rembrandt - in a £18 million stunt that took just half an hour to pull off.

Eight men were eventually convicted over the heist and all three paintings were recovered.

The one with the patriotic hero

On the night of August 21 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian employee of the museum, who had hidden in the building overnight before persuasing a plumber to let him out - painting in tow. The masterpiece did not reappear for another two years, when Peruggia was caught trying to sell it to an Italian museum.

It emerged he wanted to reclaim the Mona Lisa as Italy's own and became something of a hero in his home country, despite serving a short prison sentence. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso were also questioned over the theft but later released.

The one worth £350 million

In 1990, thieves gained access to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston by posing as police officers. A guard on night duty broke protocol by allowing them in through a security door. Once in, the men restrained both guards at the museum, before making off with a mammoth 13 works worth an estimated £350 million, including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk.

The paintings have never been found and the Gardner Museum continues to investigate any and all leads.

The one with the thank you note

In February 1994, on the same day as the Winter Olympics opening in Norway, four men broke into the National Gallery in Oslo and stole Edvard Munch's The Scream, leaving a note that read "Thanks for the poor security." The painting was later recovered in a sting operation by police in 1996 - but a different version of the painting was then stolen again at Oslo's Munch Museum in 2004.

This time, a gang broke into the museum in broad daylight and lifted The Scream, plus Munch's Madonna off the walls after threatening staff and members of the public with a handgun. They made off in a getaway car and were not caught until two years later - by which time, both pieces were damaged.

The one with the broken padlock

In May 2010, five masterpieces worth £87 million were stolen from the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. The heist later turned out to be the work of a lone thief (thought to be stealing to order), who broke into the museum by breaking a padlock and smashing a window, before cutting the pieces from their frames.

The museum later admitted its alarm system had not been working properly. The five stolen works - Dove with Green Peas by Pablo Picasso, Pastoral by Henri Matisse, Olive Tree near l'Estaque by Georges Braque, Woman with Fan by Amedeo Modigliani (pictured) and Still Life with Candlestick by Fernand Leger - have never been recovered.

The one that lasted 35 minutes

In one of the shortest-lived thefts in history, a gang broke into Amsterdam's Vincent Van Gogh National Museum in 1991, making off with 20 paintings, including his world-famous Sunflowers. However, they were all found 35 minutes later abandoned in a getaway car. Some had been severely torn after being stuffed into the clothing of the thieves who escaped with them.

In a side development, the Van Gogh museum was targeted again in 2002, with the theft of two paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen. The culprits were later caught and sentenced but the paintings have never been found.

The one that was 'not stealing'

In 2003, three paintings - including Picasso's Poverty - were stolen overnight from the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. All three works, worth £4 million, were found the next day crammed into a tube behind a public toilet. In a bizarre twist, a note was found attached to the stolen pieces claiming "the intention was not to steal, only to highlight the woeful security."

Some of the paintings suffered damage but went back on display within two weeks, with the museum ramping up its security system as a result.

The one with the ransom

In December 2007, a gang used a crow bar and hydraulic car jack to break into the Sao Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil. They made off with two paintings worth £28 million - Picasso’s Portrait of Suzanne Bloch (pictured) and Portinari’s O Lavrador de Cafe - within minutes. They later called the museum's president and demanded a £3 million ransom.

No ransom was paid, and the paintings were both found in perfect condition three weeks later, leaning against a wall in a house in Sao Paulo.

The one with the pretend tourist

Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece The Madonna With The Yarnwinder was taken from a castle belonging to the 9th Duke of Buccleuch in Scotland in 2003. Two men joined a tour party at the castle, then overpowered the female member of staff who was there to guard the painting. An alarm was triggered but the thieves escaped in a getaway car, dumping the frame from the £40 million, 500-year-old piece on the way.

Four years later, in 2007, police recovered the artwork in a swoop on a solicitors' office in the centre of Glasgow. Several men were charged in connection with the theft.

The one with the toilet window

In 1961, Kempton Bunton (pictured), a retired bus driver, broke into London's National Gallery through a toilet window (having previously learned sensors were turned off in the mornings during cleaning). He stole Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the wall of the gallery and escaped with it. The painting had been at the centre of a row after an American oil tycoon attempted to buy it for $392,000. Bunton demanded the same amount, saying he wanted to buy TV licenses for the poor.

Four years later, he returned the painting voluntarily and served only a three month jail sentence after his defence ruled that he was responsible for only the theft of the frame (the only part that was not returned).



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