Art Lost to the Ages
A collection of seven masterpieces by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and other legendary artists were thought to be lost to an incinerator, after a Romanian woman, Olga Dogaru, claimed she burned them. She said she destroyed them in an effort to protect her son, allegedly responsible for stealing them from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.
In court Monday, offering a window of hope that the paintings, valued at tens of millions of dollars, may yet be recovered.
As this case illustrates, just because art can last forever doesn't mean it isn't fragile. Great works of art have been burned, torn and stolen, lost to the public and never seen again.
Five masterpieces, worth around a combined $150 million, painted by Matisse, Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and others were stolen by a lone burglar from the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. The heist was tragically simple, requiring the thief to slip past three ineffective guards and a malfunctioning alarm system before easily cutting each painting out of its frame.
After police arrested two accomplices who had helped with arranging the theft, the robber panicked and "destroyed the canvasses before throwing them into a rubbish bin."
A fire at a Momart storage warehouse in 2004 claimed more than 100 works of art, including more than 50 paintings from abstract artist Patrick Heron and 36 by painter Damien Hirst, among others. The value of the artwork lost was estimated to be over $75 million.
Investigators blamed a nearby break-in at a neighboring warehouse as the cause of the blaze.
Intending to touch-up a fading, 19th-century fresco of Jesus Christ, Cecilia Gimenez, an elderly woman living in Spain, is the one behind what The New York Times described as "probably the worst art restoration of all time."
Titled "Ecce Homo," or "Behold the Man," the fresco, which resided in a church in Borja, had been slowly chipped away due to moisture on the walls. When church authorities saw the work Gimenez had done, they initially suspected vandalism before Gimenez came forward, claiming that her work, which had been described as monkey-like by critics, had been commissioned by a priest.
On March 18, 1990, thieves pulled off what was the largest art heist in U.S. history, making off with a collection worth an estimated $300 million to $500 million, a crime that has still gone unsolved. Disguised as police officers, the burglars entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and took their time -- 81 minutes in total -- pulling off their heist.
The collection includes works from Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt and Edgar Degas. The paintings were cut right out of their frames, leading investigators to believe the burglars weren't running a sophisticated operation.
Above: Johannes Vermeer's "The Concert," worth an estimated $200 million, is probably the most valuable artwork the criminals stole.
In 1992, a misdirected youth group found their way to the Mayrieres cave near the village of Bruniquel with the intention of cleaning up graffiti. What they actually managed to do was nearly destroy a 15,000-year-old artwork.
The cave, adorned with a painting of two bison dating back to the paleolithic era, is one of hundreds along southwestern France, including the famous Lascaux caves in the Dordogne region.
Given the unflattering lens with which Lucien Freud paints his portraits, it might not be too surprising that at least one of his subjects wasn't happy with the end result.
In the 1950s, Freud painted a portrait of antique dealer Bernard Breslauer. Unhappy with the result, particularly with the depiction of his chin, Breslauer later destroyed the painting, despite the fact that the artwork was eventually worth millions.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 claimed not only thousands of American lives. Hundreds of works of art, valued at more than $100 million dollars, were destroyed.
In addition to the loss of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney, the attack on the World Trade Center also took some 300 drawings and bronze scupltures by Auguste Rodin.
The single largest loss of Western artwork took place during World War II. Tens of thousands of works were looted or destroyed.
While time is putting more distance between the lost artwork and their rightful owners, paintings and sculptures, stolen by Nazi soldiers, are still being recovered. Some even occasionally turn up in museums where they've been on public display for years.
An online database of still-missing artwork is available at lootedart.com, in the hopes of reuniting plundered artwork with the families of the original owners.