In 1911 an Italian employee at the Parisian Louvre museum named Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa and hid in the building overnight. The next day, a plumber let him out and he made off with arguably the world's most famous painting. Peruggia was caught and the masterpiece recovered two years later when the thief tried to sell the painting to an Italian museum. Peruggia believes that the painting rightfully belonged in an Italian museum, not a French one. He served some time in a prison but became sort of a national hero for his attempt to return the Mona Lisa to its home land. Apparently Pablo Picasso was an initial suspect for the robbery.
The Swedish National Museum
In 2000 three men pulled off an extraordinarily planned heist at the Swedish National Museum. Three men, masked and carrying automatic weapons walked away from the museum with a Rembrandt self-portrait and two Renoir's: Young Parisian and Conversation with the Gardner equaling $20 million. To distract the police, accomplices elsewhere in Stockholm set off two car bombs and laid tire spikes around the streets surrounding the museum. Eight men connected with the crime were eventually convicted and the paintings returned to the museum.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
In one of the world's most successful art heists in history, in 1990, thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston by pretending to be the police. A guard let them in at night, breaking protocol. The thieves then restrained the night guards, and walked out of the museum with 13 works total, including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk, amongst others. The grand total for this mammoth heist? $390 million. The paintings have never been recovered, none of the robbers have been arrested, and it remains an open investigation.
The National Gallery
In 1994, four thieves broke into Norway's National Gallery in Oslo. They made off with Edvard Munch's world famous The Scream. The kicker? The robbers left a note for the police and museum staff reading "Thanks for the poor security." The authorities returned the favor two years later when they got the painting back in a sting operation. However, The Scream was not safe for long. In 2004 it was stolen again, along with Madonna, in broad daylight by thieves wielding guns. It was recovered two years later.
In 2003, three paintings including Picasso's Poverty went missing from the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. The three works, totaling $4.4 million were recovered the following day in a tube behind a toilet in a public bathroom. Included in the tube was a note that read, "the intention was not to steal, only to highlight the woeful security."