In Soviet museums, exhibits were rarely stolen. This type of criminal fishing on 1/6 of the land was not very popular, since it was almost impossible to export masterpieces abroad, and in their homeland they did not find buyers or were depressingly little. Nevertheless, cases of theft, as well as deliberate damage to exhibits, have been and still are in Russian museums.
We have selected the most famous cases of damage and theft of masterpieces of great cultural and material value. In fact, there were many more such cases and, unfortunately, they continue to occur.
1. The most famous cases of damage and theft of exhibits from Russian museums. St. Luke Franz Hals
The priceless masterpiece of the famous Flemish Franz Hals was stolen from the Pushkin Museum without any special tricks in 1965. Thieves entered the premises on a cleaning day and carried out the “St. Luke” without hindrance. The loss was discovered only the next day, and it was not possible to find the treacherous criminals in hot pursuit.
For the Land of Soviets, this was a serious emergency that challenged the huge well-coordinated state security system, so the search took place in an atmosphere of strict secrecy. But neither a poll of informants, nor general checks by the prosecutor’s office of antiquaries and art critics gave nothing “St. Luke” as if sunk into the water.
Found the stolen painting by coincidence the thief tried to sell it to an accidental buyer, who turned out to be a freelance police officer. The criminal estimated the canvas at only 100 thousand rubles. The operation to arrest the kidnapper and confiscate the painting took place quickly and smoothly. The kidnapper turned out to be an employee of the museum, an assistant to the restorer of paintings.
The criminal could not provide the ancient canvas with the necessary conditions for storage, and “St. Luke” because of the dry air in the intruder’s apartment was very dry. The restoration of the painting by Franz Hals took 2.5 years for specialists.
2. Attacks on the painting by I. Repin “Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan”
The painting of the Russian painter was attempted twice. Both cases are connected not with the abduction, but with the damage to the canvas. The first time Ivan the Terrible was attacked during the life of Ilya Repin, in 1913. Old Believer Abram Balashov, a religious and extremely unbalanced man, inflicted several cuts on the painting with a knife in the area of the faces of the heroes of the canvas.
The damage was repaired by the author himself, and the militant Old Believer was sent to an insane asylum. The painting suffered so much damage that even Repin could not return it to its original appearance. Despite this, in the same 1913 the painting “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan” again took its place in the exposition of the Tretyakov Gallery.
In 2018, the painting survived another attack. This time the canvas was attacked by a drunken man who was pretty “charged” with alcohol in the Tretyakov Gallery’s buffet. The vandal hit the picture frame and glass with a metal fence post. The frame was seriously damaged, glass fragments cut the canvas.
The man explained the act by the fact that, in his opinion, the picture incorrectly reflects the historical event. Whatever it was, but the restoration of the masterpiece will take a lot of time and will cost at least 10 million rubles.
3. The abduction of the painting “Pool in a Harem” by Jean-Léon Jerome
The painting, which is worth at least 1 million, was stolen from the Hermitage in broad daylight in 2001. The painting was in a hall closed to the public, so no one interfered with the kidnappers. They entered the room, cut the picture out of the frame, carefully rolled it up and carried it out of the museum.
The hype raised in the media by the theft of the canvas prevented the kidnappers from selling their booty no one wanted to get involved with such a famous exhibit. Therefore, after suffering for 5 years, the criminals returned the canvas to the museum, using for this the reception of the communist Gennady Zyuganov.
The painting was in very poor condition as it was kept folded in four. The paint on the folds was crumbling, and the canvas was rubbed to holes. The restoration of the “Pool in the Harem” took almost three years, and since 2009 the canvas can again be seen in the exposition of the State Hermitage.
4. The abduction of two works by Vasily Perov
In April 1999, two exhibits belonging to the brush of the great Russian painter Vasily Perov were stolen from the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The criminals broke glass on the first floor of the museum at night, entered the exhibition halls and stole the painting “The Guitarist-Bull” and a sketch for the painting “Troika”. Experts estimate each of the exhibits at 700 thousand dollars.
During the theft, the alarm went off, but the intruders managed to escape with the loot the same way they entered the museum. Thanks to the professionalism of law enforcement officers, the criminals were quickly detained, and the paintings were returned safe and sound.
5. The abduction of the golden falars in Rostov-on-Don
In 1971, golden plaques-falars, found by archaeologists in the grave of the Sarmatian leader, were stolen from the Rostov-on-Don museum of local lore. The thief entered the museum through the window, broke the glass of the showcase and took 7 small exhibits. The alarm went off, but the museum security did not have time to arrive at the crime scene and the thief managed to escape.
The offender was found pretty quickly he turned out to be a young man with no specific occupation, with no criminal experience. Unfortunately, the ancient jewelry was irretrievably lost the intruder melted them into ingots to sell them as scrap. The guy was given out by buyers of gold from the city market, to whom the thief persistently offered a gold bar of unknown fineness and origin.
6. Large-scale shortage in the Hermitage
An audit carried out in the State Hermitage in 2006 showed that there were no 226 exhibits in the museum. Among the missing items are ancient icons, jewelry, household utensils with precious stones.
The estimated value of the missing person was more than 5 million. The launched investigation revealed the involvement of the museum employee Larisa Zavadskaya in the disappearance. The woman died at the very beginning of the proceedings and, although her husband and son were among the suspects, it was not possible to disclose the scheme of theft and the method of selling the museum exhibits.
A complete list of missing items has been published on the official website of the Hermitage. This helped to return several exhibits they were transferred to the management of the museum or planted. But the main part of the valuables, alas, was irretrievably lost and the chance of getting them back is very low.
7. Attack on “Danae” by Rembrandt
In 1985, there was perhaps the loudest attack on a work of art in the history of the USSR. An unemployed resident of Lithuania Bronius Maigis came to the Hermitage with a knife and a can of sulfuric acid. First, the vandal splashed aggressive liquid onto the painting “Danae”, and then, to be sure to cause serious damage to it, he slashed the canvas twice with a knife. The man explained his actions by political motives, but the doctors declared him insane and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. The painting suffered damage to almost 30% of the area; it took 12 years for restoration specialists to restore it. In 1997, “Danae” returned to its place in the museum’s exposition. Now it is protected by armored glass.