Arts, Culture & Media

High profile art heists on the rise around the world

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The Mona Lisa sits behind glass and a barrier keeping viewers at a distance at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. (Photo: Flickr user kevinofsydney)

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In the past month and a half, a $200,000 Picasso sketch titled "Tete de Femme" was stolen from a San Francisco gallery, a $350,000 Fernand Léger was lifted from a New York gallery, and eleven paintings valued at $387,000 were stolen from a gallery in Toronto. Just last week, a $250,000 pen and ink work by Rembrandt stolen from an exhibit at a Ritz-Carlton in California was recovered.

High profile arts heists are on the rise around the world and, according to the FBI, the international black market for art and cultural property is now worth $6 billion annually.

Joe Medeiros directed the documentary "The Missing Piece," which tells the story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, 100 years ago this week. He says people have romantic notions about art thieves, but most are really just common criminals.

"There is no Dr. No or this mysterious collector who has these things in a cave," Medeiros explained on The Takeaway. "A lot of these people are thugs and criminals who steal the art and then they use it as bargaining chips."

While thieves do get away with stealing the art, getting rid of it is another matter, Medeiros said.

According to the LA Times, the Rembrandt that went missing last week was recovered when the thieves panicked and decided to "dump it" in a church in Encino. The piece was called "The Judgment."

More about art thefts: Why Rembrandts are highly popular with thieves.

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"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.