Missing Treasures

It would seem that good art has only been produced in the West and a lot of it has
been stolen. No one talks about the great artists of the non-Western world and
their works which could also have been stolen.

By Maheen Aziz | December 2020

It requires a brilliant mind and hands to make a timeless painting that stays unsullied in people’s minds. The big names of the Western art world have produced many such paintings without knowing that they will be stolen one day. These paintings attracted the attention of art lovers, art critics and thieves. It must be astonishing to know that one of the thieves’ categories is interested only in stealing paintings. It is believed that Mona Lisa’s original painting was stolen from the Musee du Louvre, Paris in 1911 and it became international news. The current Mona Lisa painting that brings many art lovers to this museum is actually not the real one, though half of the world believes that the original painting was recovered after two years of its theft and returned to the museum.

Many artists have made timeless works which were kept under high vigilance. Even then, some clever thieves have stolen them and their whereabouts remain a mystery. More than 1500 paintings of Pablo Picasso have been stolen up till now. His famous painting LE Piegon aux Petits Pois painted in 1911 was stolen by a man in a heist in May 2010 from the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. This painting has still not been recovered. Another prolific artist whose work became the target of an art robbery was Caravaggio. He is known for the most expensive artworks in the world yet it could not be kept safe from the hands of thieves. His painting entitled ‘The Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence ‘ was stolen from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. There are many stories attached to the burglary of this work as it is held that the artwork might have been destroyed by the thieves due to the fear of being caught or perhaps it is hidden out of the country.

There has always been mysteries and stories of rediscoveries related to the most wanted paintings of the world yet there is not much credibility in the stories and many paintings have reproduced. These thefts did not start in the past 50 years but centuries ago. One of false story of the rediscovery of a painting was of Raphael’s portrait of a young man that holds the most significance among the missing artworks since World War II. It is believed that the painting was discovered by the family patriarch Prince AugustynJózefCzartoryski in 1939 and then was hidden for years. Later Gestapo rescued it after which it travelled to many destinations and again went out of sight.

Vincent van Gogh is also among the artists who have the maximum numbers of stolen paintings which are around 80 to date.

Part of the same Rotterdam art heist was Reading Girl in White and Yellow by French artist Henri Matisse. Painted in 1919, the painting depicts a woman deep in thought reading a book, sitting next to a table decorated with flowers. The theft of this work and the others stolen in the robbery was one of the biggest in the Netherlands in over a decade. The burglars broke into the museum through an emergency exit and pilfered a number of works before fleeing, all within two minutes. The mother of one of the thieves also claims that she was frightened following her son’s arrest, and so she buried the stolen artworks in an abandoned house and a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She later dug up the paintings and burned them in her stove. The Matisse painting and the other stolen works formed part of the Triton Foundation collection.

To revive the paintings, there was reward money offered to the people who could lead the state to any information about the missing works so the paintings could be brought back. One can imagine the worth of the art as the thieves preferred keeping it and cashing it one day instead of returning it to the state. A sum of $10,000,000 was offered as reward money for one of the biggest and worrying heists in history. It is believed to be of the piece titled The Concert by Johannes Vermeer in 1990. This incalculable painting was stolen with other 13 art pieces from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a $500,000,000 heist collectively.

Vincent van Gogh is also among the artists who have the maximum numbers of stolen paintings which are around 80 to date. Poppy Flowers by Vincent van Gogh. This painting of red and yellow poppies in a yellow vase, among many factors, is also important because Gogh painted it three years before he committed suicide. It was stolen from Mohamed Mehmoud Khalil Museum, Cairo in 2010 and is yet to be found. Whereas The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen by Vincent van Gogh, a wintery series of the artist, was in the collection of the Groninger Museum in The Netherlands from 1962 to 2020. Unfortunately the museum could not keep it safe from the thieves anymore and on March 30th 2020 it was swept away from an exhibition at the Singer Laren museum in Laren which had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The writer is a freelance journalist. She writes on art, culture, entertainment, travel and women’s rights. She can be reached at

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