5 Fascinating Cases of Stolen Artwork Recovered

On Sunday, the world received some good news. German magazine Focus reported that in 2011, authorities conducting a tax-evasion investigation found $1.35 billion in modernist paintings stashed, for years, in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. The recovered pieces, more than 1,500 paintings, were first confiscated by Nazi officials who deemed the avant-garde works by artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall “degenerate.” Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand was an art dealer charged with selling the stolen works to foreign buyers. The pieces found a new home instead amongst cans of food in the pantry. Hildebrand hid them there, occasionally selling one to eat.

While many cases of stolen work still remain regrettably unsolved (we’re looking at you, evocative, empty frames at the Isabella Stewart Gardner), the following are five of the biggest success stories.


The Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection in Zurich had the efficacy of their security system tested in 2008 when four major works including the museum’s most valuable painting Cézanne’s The Boy in the Red Vest were stolen. Three masked men walked into the museum in broad daylight, grabbed the paintings from the wall, threw them in their van, and drove off. Major art heists are rare enough, but this was Switzerland’s second just that week. Two of the paintings, a Van Gogh and a Monet, were recovered in the parking lot of a mental hospital near the museum that very day. While, The Boy in the Red Vest remained missing until April 12, 2012, when it was found in the trunk of a car in Serbia.