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Mark Lugo, Eat Your Heart Out: 10 Historic Art Heists (PHOTOS)

The Huffington Post     First Posted: 07/20/11 05:12 AM ET   Updated: 09/18/11 06:12 AM ET

If the case of Mark Lugo, suspected Picasso thief, can teach us anything, it's that stealing art is extremely difficult. It's almost comically easy, of course, to walk out of a gallery with a piece under your arm, as Lugo is alleged to have done, but it's much harder to do anything with the painting once you've got it.

For one thing, most works by artists as famous as Picasso are so rigorously catalogued that it's nearly impossible to fence their work. You'd likely have to know a particular buyer or be well-connected in the black market to get anyone to take such hot property off your hands.

Cultural objects can also prompt a much larger investigation than ordinary property. In the case of the Picasso theft, which was covered extensively by national news outlets, the perp didn't stand a chance. The whole city of San Francisco was on the lookout, so it was no surprise when a bar produced security camera footage of Lugo walking past with a frame under his arm.

When a famous work is stolen these days, odds are that it will be recovered within a few years. Among the images in the slideshow below, that's mostly been the case. But for the few that police haven't been able to track down, the element of intrigue is strong. Who knows what oligarchs or James Bond villains might have one hanging over their fireplace?

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  • <em>Mona Lisa</em> Leonardo Da Vinci The painting was stolen in 1911 by an employee of the Louvre, and wasn't recovered until the thief tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence two years later.

  • <em>The Just Judges</em>, panel from the <em>Ghent Alterpiece</em> Jan and Hubert Van Eyck Two panels from the altarpiece were stolen in 1934. This one was never recovered, and the presumed thief insisted he would take the secret of its location to his grave.

  • <em>The Boy in the Red Vest</em> Paul Cézanne The painting was stolen in 2008 from Foundation E.G. Bührle in Zürich, Switzerland, along with a Monet, a Van Gogh and a Degas. Of these, only the Monet and Van Gogh were recovered.

  • <em>The Pigeon with the Peas</em> Pablo Picasso The painting was stolen in 2010, along with one work each by Matisse, Braque, Léger and Modigliani. The French auctioneer and president of the Association du Palais de Tokyo, Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, commented, "These five paintings are un-sellable, so thieves, sirs, you are imbeciles, now return them."

  • <em>Impression, Sunrise</em> Claude Monet The painting, stolen in 1985, was the inspiration for the name of the painting movement known as Impressionism. It was recovered in 1990.

  • <em>Sybille, Princess of Cleves</em> Lucas Cranach the Elder The painting was stolen in 1995 by serial art thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Of the 239 artworks he admitted to having stolen, this was the most valuable, estimated at £5-£5.6 million.

  • <em>Madonna</em> Edvard Munch This painting and a version of Munch's celebrated <em>The Scream</em> were stolen in 2004 and recovered in 2006.

  • <em>The Concert</em> Johannes Vermeer The painting was stolen in 1990 and is estimated to be the most valuable stolen painting still to be recovered. The heist in which this and other paintings were stolen may be the most famous in American history. Former Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, who was arrested in June, has long been suspected to have been involved. <a href="" target="_hplink">The Los Angeles Times reports</a>, "Rumors have long swirled that Bulger, the head of the city's powerful Irish American mob at the time, may have played a role -- or must have known who did."

  • <em>Light and Colour</em> J.M.W. Turner The painting was stolen in 1994, along with another Turner and a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, and was recovered in 2002. The story of its recovery, in which London's Tate Gallery solicited agents to negotiate its return with members of the black market, is a fascinating story, and is summarized <a href="" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • <em>Salt Cellar</em> Benvenuto Cellini The table sculpture was stolen in 2003 during construction on the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Berlin. The well-known work was the only piece of its kind by Cellini, prohibiting its easy sale, and it was found in 2006 after the thief confessed to police.