Masterpieces Stolen from Museum of Modern Art

Pastoral painted by Henri Matisse in 1906

I was nearly sick to read it yesterday. I don’t know how many of you have heard. France is reeling today, but not merely France. The World at large. The world of Art and Beauty and Creativity all have suffered a blow, because some sick men wanted to make themselves some extra bits of paper.

The Museum of Modern Art in Paris was robbed. Thieves broke in under cover of night and stole five paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Leger, and Modigliani. It is certainly not the first theft of art in history—a devastating occurrence already felt in the loss of Rembrandts and Van Goghs, among others. Nor will it be the last, I am certain, but that does not make it easier to swallow. This is a terrible act that does not merely steal from a building or a man, but from civilization itself.

I believe Christophe Girard, deputy culture secretary at the Paris Town Hall, said it best when he told reporters: “This is a serious crime to the heritage of humanity.”

Dove with Green Peas painted by Pablo Picasso in 1911.

Some might argue that in the digital world, where all these images can simply be put online, the loss of a few dusty old portraits is hardly a thing to worry about. That is a terrible thing to think, I believe. Whatever you may put online, it is but a copy. The work, the real work—that image that men spent hours, days, even months of work to craft—is gone. The original, the true creation of their hand, is gone. Such a copy is but a hollow substitute. It is not the same.

The terrible thing about this is the realization that these works may never be seen again. In the coming days, police will undoubtedly be scouring Paris for any trace of the works, but if one took such care to break inside, one does not often stumble in their path of flight.

In 1990, works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet were also stolen. Taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, they still have not been found. Try as we might to find them, they are gone.

Worse, even if we find them, who’s to say what shape they will be in? Not all criminals take such care of their stolen prize. One can hope that if they intend to sell them, great care will be taken, but one can never know. The more days pass, however, the less chance we have of knowing—and the greater the likelihood we may never see these masterpieces again.

The things people do for money…it’s enough to make a person sick.

A list of other Memorable Art Heists

  • 2008: Four paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh and Monet were stolen from a private museum in Zurich. Both the Van Gogh and Monet paintings were recovered, but the others remain lost.
  • 2004: Two paintings by Edvard Munch, The Scream and Madonna, were stolen from the Munch Museum in Oslo. They were recovered two years later.
  • 1991: Twenty paintings were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They were found nearby in an abandoned car.
  • 1990: Thirteen works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Manet were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. They have never been recovered.
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