Welcome to our Stolen Art Collection
Our new Spring 2010 puzzle offerings feature paintings that have at one time been stolen, and a few that narrowly escaped being stolen. Some remain missing to this day. In each case we include a brief history relating to the art theft alongside the image.
We have combed through hundreds of images of stolen paintings to find the most suitable for our jigsaw puzzles. Most are by renowned artists, since those are the ones that attract thieves. In these pages you will see works by Monet (3),Vermeer (2),Van Gogh (2),Rembrandt, Gaugin, Schiele, Bruegel, Munch, and Klimt, among others. We also tried to pick works with interesting stories. We have pistol-wielding gangs taking museum visitors hostage, Nazi Party higher-ups trying to loot all of Europe, and art museums behaving badly.
So who steals art? Why do they steal it?
In 1961 Francisco Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen from London’s National Gallery. A year later the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released. A young Sean Connery playing Bond famously does a double take in Dr. No’s lair when he sees the Goya hanging on the wall. This scene gave rise to the “Dr. No scenario” amongst art theft investigators, where a powerful criminal commissions the theft of a particular piece of art for his personal enjoyment in the heart of his criminal empire.
The reality, however, is much more mundane. Most art thiefs are common criminals looking to sell the stolen works for cash. In fact, the Dr. No theory is refuted by its own case; the Goya was returned five years later, having been stolen by a disabled, retired pensioner.
The problems with trying to sell a stolen masterpiece are obvious: art is unique, and especially in the internet age, everyone knows when something is missing, everyone is looking for it, and everyone knows what it looks like. Art just happens to be an easy target, because museums are relatively unguarded public spaces.
Nazi Art Theft During World War II
“I intend to plunder, and to do it thoroughly.” - Hermann Göring
A colossal global upheaval like World War II also creates opportunity for theft on a grand scale. The Nazis stole, destroyed, or sold just about every piece of art they came in contact with. They more or less plundered the entire continent. Hitler and Göring not only acquired art for themselves, but they oversaw specific Nazi agencies set up to systematically loot every territory they conquered. Lists of desired artworks were drawn up before invasion. Entire museums and cities were evacuated of art and other objects, which were sent back to Germany or to other storage locations. As the tide of war turned and the Nazis retreated, they eventually set up a number of storage depots in Germany to protect works from bombing and discovery by Allied troops. The Castle Neuschwanstein was one such repository, primarily for works stolen from French museums and private art collections.
In the turmoil of people just trying to survive, works of art were hidden, stolen, looted, transferred, sold, destroyed, or just plain lost. Many paintings that disappeared during the war eventually found their way into galleries and museums. The past two decades have seen a global movement to restore ownership or compensation to the rightful owners of works dispossessed during World War II. Many of these cases are quite complex, and museums must carefully balance moral and public trust duties when they deal with dispossessed heirs.