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Mona Lisa stolen in Paris (1911)

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Amazingly, the Mona Lisa wasn’t nearly as iconic in 1911 as it is today — and, in fact, the theft of this Da Vinci painting was one thing that helped this particular artwork to become known around the world. After being away from the Louvre for two years, she was at last safely recovered. See the later-known details of the Mona Lisa theft here, but see the story as breaking news below.
Da Vinci picture stolen in Paris

Italian painter’s masterpiece, “Mona Lisa,” disappears from the Louvre gallery

Prefect of police and head of detectives close museum and make thorough but fruitless search

The art world was thrown into consternation today by the announcement that Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “Mona Lisa,” or, as it is popularly known, “La Joconde,” had mysteriously disappeared from the Louvre.

The famous painting hung in the place of honor in the Salon Carre of the Louvre, and not a vestige of a clue was left by the person or persons who took it. A search of every nook and cranny of the Louvre, from roof to cellar, brought to light only the valuable frame in which the picture hung and the glass that covered it. These were intact on a back staircase.

Some persons believe that a practical joke has been played, but nevertheless the government has set its entire force of detectives at work in an effort to recover the painting.

“Mona Lisa” is one of France’s greatest art treasures, ranking with the sculptures “Venus de Milo” and “The Victory of Samothrace” and Murillo’s painting, “The Immaculate Conception.”

The only parallel with this in the history of art thefts is the case of Gainsborough’s famous “Dutchess of Devonshire,” which was taken from its frame in the showroom of an art firm in London some years ago, but later returned to its owners by the late “Pat” Sheedy, a well known American gambler, who acted as intermediary between the thief and the art dealers. Later this picture was purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan.

The “Joconde” was not missed from its accustomed place until noon today, when the visitors to the museum, among whom were hundreds of Americans, were quietly informed that the gallery was about to be closed for the day, and requested to leave. After that time no one was admitted.

Premier is apprised

M. Caillaux, the Premier, was immediately apprised of the disappearance of “Mona Lisa,” and, after a hurried conference with M. Lepine, the Prefect of Police, at the Ministry of the Interior, M. Lepine set off fore the Louvre, accompanied by M. Hamard, chief of the detective bureau, and these well known officials, reinforced by the entire staff of detectives, remained until night, industriously searching the Louvre for the missing masterpiece.

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The most remarkable feature of the case is that the picture appears to have been taken early yesterday morning, without its absence being remarked until noon today. At 7:30 o’clock yesterday morning two masons were passing through the Salon Carre, when one of them pointed to the “Mona Lisa” and said to his comrade: “That is the finest picture in the Louvre.”

An hour afterward one of the attendants, in going through the Salon, noticed that the picture was missing, but believing it had been removed by one of the photographers, who have the privilege of taking photographs in the Louvre, he merely said: “Hello, ‘Joconde’ has gone to the photographers again!” On the other hand, another official believes he remembers seeing the painting at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Georges Benedite, acting conservator of the Louvre, is inclined to believe the removal of the painting is the work of a practical joker, pointing out that such a world famous art treasure would be a white elephant in the hands of a thief, as it would be utterly impossible to dispose of it. At the same time, however, M. Benedite does not altogether abandon the hypothesis of theft.

There is a scaffold against the facade of the building, placed there in connection with the installation of an elevator. By this scaffold it would be easy to enter and leave the building, and a person acquainted with the interior and provided with keys to the various rooms could easily reach the Salon Carre.

Gallery was closed Monday

A curious feature of the disappearance of “Mona Lisa” is that on Monday the gallery was closed for the purpose of cleaning it, and no one was permitted to enter except workmen, attendants and a few privileged persons.

The first searches for the painting having proved fruitless, the Under Secretary of State for Fine Arts, M. Dujardin-Beaumetz, has lodged with the Minister of Justice a charge of theft against some person or persons unknown. A magistrate has been appointed to open an investigation immediately.

The Under Secretary also has summoned all photographers who have privileges of the Louvre, and the police are interrogating the curators and their assistants.

Just a year and a month ago today the “Cri de Paris” announced that the “Mona Lisa” had been stolen from the gallery of the Louvre one night in June through the complicity of an official of the museum and that a copy had been substituted in the frame. The paper asserted that the original had been taken to New York and sold to an American collector. Later this report was repeatedly denied.

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“La Joconde,” or “Mona Lisa,” is one of the world’s most famous paintings, and is held priceless. It was reported once that the British government had offered $5,000,000 for the work, which was refused. It is undoubtedly the most celebrated portrait of a woman in the world. Its most striking characteristic is the strangely enigmatic smile. Da Vinci’s model was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. When da Vinci painted her, she was about thirty years old.

The subject is shown seated in a low chair, on the left arm of which she is leaning. The gown is simple and drapes the figure in easy folds. Dark hair hangs loosely, the face being oval, with expressive eyes and aquiline nose. About the mouth is seen the smile which has been the chief characteristic in making the painting famous. It is said that da Vinci in order to obtain this effect had musicians, singers and jesters near his subject to amuse her as he painted.

About three hundred persons, including copyists, photographers, workmen, cleaners and officials, had access to the gallery on Monday. All of these persons have been interrogated by M. Hamard, but were unable to furnish the slightest clue. The police are hunting for a mysterious German whose continual presence in the Salon Carre recently attracted the attention of its guardians.

Numerous hypotheses with regard to the missing picture are being advanced. The celebrated engraver, Frederic Laguillermie, who is working on a series of engravings in the Salon Carre, points out that the photographers who are admitted there on Mondays carry large boxes and that it would be quite feasible for a stranger to enter on the pretext of carrying plates, etc., to the photographers and steal a picture and put it in the box. Then, when the guardian’s attention was relaxed, he could smuggle it out of the building.

In the case of “Mona Lisa,” however, M. Laguillermie admitted this would be quite a feat, as the picture is painted on a stout wooden panel and is heavily tacked. It would require, therefore, a person of considerable strength to carry it away.

Public opinion is greatly aroused over what is considered the inadequate surveillance of art treasures in the Louvre. Pictures frequently are removed from the walls and taken to the official photographers’ studios without the guardians being informed. A member of the Chamber of Deputies announced tonight he would interpellate M Jules Steeg, Minister of Public Instruction, tomorrow on the “Mona Lisa” affair and the measures the government is taking adequately to preserve national art treasures from thieves, madmen and vandals.

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