Art and art heists seem to go hand-in-hand. No wonder then that some of the rarest masterpieces of art have disappeared at different points in history under mysterious circumstances, leaving the cognoscenti speechless to date. Only reproductions exist today, thanks to the services of made-to-order oil painting providers like The 1st Art Gallery (where the information in this post comes from).
If you’re a contemporary crime author, why not mention one of the five finest art pieces that have gone missing in recent years?
The Concert 1665-66 by Jan Vermeer
Vermeer was the master of Baroque art, which was characterized by bold and rich decorations, intricate compositions, and an overdose of light and shade. The themes were aimed at causing a stir in the senses.
Vermeer was born at a time when the feud between the Catholic Church and the Protestants was raging. It was also a period when the art market blossomed. He did not let any politics seep into his works, preferring instead to portray peaceful everyday scenes, delicately working around all the details. The Concert was one of his exceptional works.
The painting was purchased by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1903. It had been on display until 1990 when it was stolen.
The Storm in the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
Rembrandt left his mark on the world by his adroit use of light and shadow. He was an artist extraordinaire and captured the subtle underpinnings of the Baroque style as he brought alive on his canvas Biblical subjects and some of the most iconic scenes of Greek mythology.
His famous Storm in the Sea of Galilee brought to life the chilling saga of emotions as the human-life is shown in a helpless flutter against the wild and merciless waves. Every stroke was added to the narrative. It was lost during the same infamous 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio’s oeuvre was deeply entrenched in the sharp contrasts between the light and dark. He mastered chiaroscuro, a technique that later became a signature of his style, seen as a divergence from the Baroque. One of the most prolific artists of his time, he is remembered for his works that were the linchpin of the transition between the Mannerism and Baroque styles.
Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, apart from its precision in finishing, is notable because it depicts Child Christ alone on the floor. It was also significant to the art world because it was the only known piece of work connected with Caravaggio’s short stay at Palermo.
The painting was said to be originally painted for the Oratory of the Compagnia di San Lorenzo, where it was housed till it was stolen in 1969. Nowadays, only reproductions (like this impressive one by the 1st Art Gallery) remain.
The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck
The famous Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck became known to the world for his staunch realism and exemplary panoramic landscapes that blended with the horizons. He was one of the pioneers of the Dutch style of painting.
The Ghent Altarpiece is a stellar work, still regarded as one of the most influential paintings ever made. It led to an impressive evocation of Biblical scenes spread over 18 panels of oak (!) and won the imagination of art connoisseurs across the world. The painting remained as a great pilgrimage site for both art lovers and other artists.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it is also one of the most coveted paintings, as it has been targeted 13 different times and parts of it have been stolen no fewer than six times!
Girl in Front of Open Window by Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a unique artist who described his work as ‘savage’. He pioneered the Symbolic Art Movement in France, which later paved the way for Fauvism and Expressionism. His inclination to produce primitive art in its nascent form led to tread far from cityscapes to an Edenic paradise in the South Seas.
The Girl in the Front of Open Window was one of his best works, displaying a vivid play of colors that conveyed the emotions of a girl lost in a sea of thoughts. It was stolen from the Kunsthal Museum, Rotterdam, in 2012.
The Bottom Line
Enough years have passed since losing these masterpieces to make it unlikely that they will be recovered any time soon. They grace, no doubt, the walls of private collectors – a euphemism, of course, for thieves. And they can act as an inspiration to us writers!
All pictures: Reproductions by the 1st Art Gallery
Living close to the museum, and having been there many times before the theft give this terrible heist a personal meaning.
I didn’t realize that! That must be awful for you 🙁
Fascinating! I watch this show once a week called Fake. It’s about famous stolen art and fake reproductions and recreations, globally. I saw an episode about the missing Jan Vermeer painting. The experts take us on a path of past and present owners of a piece of art they paid a fortune for and the experts take us on a journey of what and where to look for in their investigations on the artist and the art. In this world we’re living right now there is so much underworld crime we the average public wouldn’t even conceive. 🙂
Sounds like a great show! I have to look it up 🙂
The proper name is Fake or Fortune. I believe it’s on a PBS channel. 🙂
Thanks, Nicholas. This was an interesting post. 🙂 — Suzanne
Thank you, Suzanne! So glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Been a lot of TV shows, movies–and books which may have formed the basis for the former, about art thieves and those who try to catch them.
Indeed. And many more will be written, I suspect 🙂
Thanks for this post, Nicholas. It’s very interesting. I like the Rembrandt picture very much.
Thank you so much, Roberta! The Rembrandt was my favorite, too 🙂
I grew up near Boston and visited the Isabella Garner Museum many times – the theft in 1990 shocked me and I believe they’ve only recovered one painting from that crime.
Just the one?! Yikes…