The Scream, by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, is one of the most famous paintings of modern times; as one Smithsonian staff writer noted, “an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time.” Art collectors know that famous paintings fetch a very high price in the art world; for example, one version of The Scream (out of four painted by the artist) sold for more than $119 million at auction in 2012. And that makes extremely valuable paintings very tempting for enterprising thieves. Here are some famous paintings that were stolen and later recovered.
On August 21, 1911, an employee at the Louvre hid in a broom closet, and after hours, simply walked out with the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, hidden underneath his coat. The employee kept the most famous and most valuable painting in the world in his apartment. Most likely his renter’s insurance wouldn’t cover the painting’s theft or damage. Eventually, the Mona Lisa was recovered when the employee tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. The Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre on January 4, 1914.
On February 12, 1994, two men stole The Scream from the National Gallery in Oslo. They were polite enough to leave behind a thank you note that read “Thanks for the poor security.” The painting was recovered a few months later (May 1994) thanks to a sting operation by British and Norwegian police.
On August 31, 2006, masked thieves stole The Scream (1910 tempura version) from the Munch Museum in Oslo. In August of that year, the Norwegian police recovered The Scream and another Munch painting.
For further reading: Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti (2010)