- Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
- Arthur Brand is known as the “Indiana Jones of the art world” for recovering hundreds of stolen pieces of art.
- A New York resident stumbled upon a $1 million stolen painting in a pile of trash on the curb.
- Two of Edvard Munch’s paintings were stolen in broad daylight and recovered two years later.
Stolen art worth millions is surprisingly hard to sell on the black market. Thieves who take famous works from museums or wealthy homes mostly do it for the bragging rights.
Some pieces of famous stolen art have taken years of painstaking investigation to track down. Other long-lost pieces of artwork have mysteriously turned up in garbage piles on city streets.
Here are 11 times that priceless pieces of art have been stolen and recovered.
Dutch art detective Arthur Brand has recovered so many pieces that he’s known as the “Indiana Jones of the art world.”
- Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images
Most recently, The New York Times reported Tuesday that Brand recovered “Portrait of Dora Maar,” a 1938 painting by Pablo Picasso, that was stolen off a yacht in 1999. Brand told the Times he received a tip from “two persons with good contacts in the underworld” who dropped it off at his house wrapped in garbage bags.
Brand recovered a 1,600-year-old mosaic from the Byzantine era that had been missing for over 40 years in 2018.
- Jan Hennop/AFP/Getty Images
Stolen from the church of Panaya Kanakaria in 1974, Brand found the mosaic in Monaco at a British family’s apartment. They had bought the piece without knowing it was stolen, according to CNN.
In 2015, he helped Berlin police track down bronze horse sculptures by Josef Thorak that were commissioned by Nazis.
- Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP/Getty Images
The sculptures were made for the courtyard of Hitler’s chancellery and had been missing for years. The New York Times reports that Brand invented a Texas millionaire interested in acquiring them and wore a camera disguised as a button to meet a middleman.
The sculptures were found to be in the possession of a businessman named Rainer Wolf, who released a statement saying that “The art objects were lawfully acquired more than 25 years ago from the Russian Army and the earlier producers.”
He also recovered two Spanish Visigoth carvings that were stolen in 2004.
- Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images
The carvings, weighing 110 pounds each and dating back to the 7th century, were stolen from the Maria de Lara Church in Spain in 2004. Brand traced them to a British family’s garden and turned them in to the Spanish embassy in 2019.
Five paintings stolen from the Isaac Levitan House Museum in Russia in 2014 were found nearly three years later.
- Vladimir SmirnovTASS via Getty Images
Five paintings by 19th century landscape painter Isaac Levitan worth about $2 million were stolen from his namesake museum in 2014 when thieves broke in through a window. They were found in December 2016 during raids of the suspected thieves’ homes.
Police in Turkey recovered “Woman Dressing Her Hair” by Pablo Picasso in 2016 after it was stolen from a collector in New York.
- AFP/STR/Getty Images
Undercover Turkish police haggled with suspects about the price of the 1940 Picasso painting, meeting them at a hotel and in a yacht before making arrests at a cafe, The Guardian reported.
Rembrandt’s “Child with a Soap Bubble” was stolen from a museum in 1999 and missing for 15 years before it was found.
- Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
Rembrandt’s “Child with a Soap Bubble,” worth $2.7 million, was stolen from the Musee Municipal D’art Et D’histoire in Draguignan, France, in 1999 during Bastille Day celebrations, according to the BBC. It was found in Nice 15 years later and two men were arrested in connection with the theft.
“The Madonna of the Yarnwinder” by Leonardo da Vinci was stolen in 2003 and found in 2007.
- Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images News
The painting was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland, home of the Duke of Buccleuch, in 2003. According to The Guardian, the thieves took the painting through a window and told onlookers, “Don’t worry love, we’re the police. This is just practice.” Police found it four years later in an office in Glasgow.
Elizabeth Gibson stumbled upon a $1 million stolen painting by Rufino Tamayo on the street in New York City.
- Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s “Tres Personajes” (Three Persons) was stolen in 1987 from a warehouse in Houston, Texas. It belonged to a couple that was in the midst of moving, according to The New York Times.
Gibson found the painting in a pile of garbage bags on a New York City street in 2003. After years of asking friends about it and doing her own research, she contacted broker of fine arts Sotheby’s, which confirmed that she had found the long-lost painting.
The Mona Lisa’s theft from the Louvre in 1911 helped make it one of the most recognizable paintings in the world.
Media coverage of the stolen painting made the Mona Lisa famous, CNN reports.
“There was nothing that really distinguished it per se, other than it was a very good work by a very famous artist – that’s until it was stolen,” Noah Charney, professor of art history and author of “The Thefts of the Mona Lisa,” told CNN. “The theft is what really skyrocketed its appeal and made it a household name.”
The Mona Lisa was recovered in 1913 when its thief was caught.
Two Edvard Munch paintings were stolen at gunpoint from the Munch Museum in Norway in 2004 and found two years later.
- Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/Getty Images
“The Scream” and “Madonna” by Edvard Munch were stolen in 2004 when two armed thieves took the paintings from the Munch Museum in Oslo while it was full of tourists, according to The New York Times. Oslo police recovered the paintings in 2006. They had sustained some damage but were mostly intact.
- Read more:
- A stolen painting worth $160 million turned up in the bedroom of a small-town couple, and investigators just got a new clue in the case
- An Italian town pulled off an elaborate ruse to fool thieves into stealing a worthless replica of a $3.4 million painting
- A museum is offering $10 million to help solve the mystery behind the biggest art heist of all time