The Biggest Art Heist of All Time
There would have to be a heist!
To become the super-famous painting we know today, “Mona Lisa” needed an epic event — something momentous to transform her into one of the most iconic images in human history.
She needed to disappear. That’s exactly what happened on August 22, 1911, when the painting was stolen. It is the greatest art heist story ever told, because it was absurdly simple, relatable in one sentence:
After hiding in a broom closet until the museum closed, a former Louvre employee walked out with the painting under his coat.
But who would do such a thing?
The heist, as later recounted in the Saturday Evening Post (this was a long time ago!), involved several players: It was the Ocean’s Eleven of its day. There was at least one burglar, but he was essentially a patsy. The ringleader did not participate in the theft, but he did unite the dream team, including the most crucial members: forgers.
According to the account, the thieves never actually intended to sell “Mona Lisa” — that would have been foolishly dangerous. Instead, they intended something much more lucrative — to copy it.
Before even stealing it, the conspirators forged six passable copies of “Mona Lisa.” Then, after snatching the original, they sold those six copies — for millions of dollars each — to doofus American millionaires.