10 Missing Masterpieces That Have Never Been Found

4. Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois by Pablo Picasso

Gallery and museum robberies tend to be carried out by a gang of thieves, however the theft of Pablo Picasso’s Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois (The Pigeon with Green Peas) was curiously carried out by just one person. All that was found at the crime scene was a broken padlock and a single smashed window.

Painted in 1911, Picasso’s oil on canvas was one of five paintings stolen from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris on 20 May 2010. The other four masterpieces stolen were La Pastorale by Henri Matisse, L’Olivier Près de l’Estaque (Olive Tree near L’Estaque) by Georges Braque, La Femme à l’Éventail (Woman with a Fan) by Amedeo Modigliani and Nature Morte aux Chandeliers (Still Life with Candlestick) by Fernand Léger, which together are worth about $123 million.

The theft was investigated by the Brigade de Répression du Banditisme specialist unit of the French Police. It is unknown why the alarm systems in the museum failed to detect the robbery, staff only noticing when they arrived at the museum just before 7:00 am.

The thief would be apprehended exactly one year later after police were tipped off about a man bragging about being responsible for the robbery. That man was Vjeran Tomic, a French cat burglar who had perpetrated the theft on the orders of Jean-Michel Corvez, an antiques dealer who did not always come by his wares legally.

It is unclear if Corvez had a specific buyer in mind when he called Tomic to steal Nature Morte aux Chandeliers (Still Life with Candlestick) by Fernand Léger, but since the security was so lax, Tomic would help himself to the other four.

This story would apparently take a tragic turn when Corvez, nervous at being caught, tried to off load on of the paintings to his friend Yonathan Birn, a watchmaker in Paris. He not only agreed to buy the Modigliani outright for $86,000, he also agreed to keep the other four canvases in his own shop.

With the investigation picking up steam, Birn’s nerves would apparently get to him as well so he (again apparently) decided to destroy the priceless works and ‘threw them in the garbage’. Not everybody believes Birn’s story, not even his co-conspirators.

Some authorities think the paintings may have been smuggled out of the country and hope that one day they will resurface and return to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, no doubt under tighter security.

Enjoy 200 of Picasso’s Masterworks from 1898 to 1972 here

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