Art theft: the 7 biggest cases in Brazil

Por Vinicius Turi - junho 9, 2022
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Art theft is very old. It is believed that the practice has existed since Mesopotamia and has been improving over the centuries, becoming an increasingly attractive activity as world-renowned works of art began to be more valued, in addition to becoming symbols of status and power.

While security technology features are more sophisticated these days, criminals continue to act in even more creative ways. Those responsible are not always arrested and the works are not always recovered, which can represent great cultural losses and change the trajectory of these works forever.

1. MASP theft

Art theft
“The Portrait of Suzane Bloch”, by Pablo Picasso and “The Coffee Farmer” – Cândido Portinari

On December 20, 2007, three men stole two paintings from Masp: “O Lavrador de Café” – Cândido Portinari, with an estimated value of US$ 5.5 million, and “The Portrait of Suzane Bloch”, by Pablo Picasso, estimated at US$50 million.

Together, the two would be worth R$ 172 million. The works were recovered more than two years later, in January 2010, in a house in Ferraz de Vasconcelos (São Paulo). Police arrived at the scene after detaining a man. In the house, two other men were arrested.

2. Chácara do Céu Museum theft

Art theft in Brazil
“The Luxembourg Garden” by Henri Matisse

On February 24, 2006, four men invaded the Chácara do Céu Museum, in Rio, and took four paintings: “A dance” by Picasso, “Marinha” by Claude Monet, “The Luxembourg Garden” by Henri Matisse and “The Two Balconies” by Salvador Dalí. The four works, together, have an estimated value of US$ 50 million (R$ 155 million).

Part of the work “A Dança” was found in a bonfire on Morro dos Prazeres, also in Rio. “The Luxembourg Garden” was even advertised on an auction site in Belarus. The minimum bid was $13 million.

3. Robbery of collector Graziela Lafer Galvão’s house

Robbery of collector Graziela Lafer Galvão's house
Works of art and jewelry stolen from collector Graziela Lafer Galvão’s house

In March 2004, three armed men took works of art, including works by Cândido Portinari and Di Cavalcanti. Valued at R$20 million, the works were located near the Nossa Senhora do Ó church, in Freguesia do Ó, north of SP. Three suspects were arrested.

4. Robbery of collector Jacob Lafer’s house

Art theft
Works taken from the home of collector Jacob Lafer

Graziela was not the only one of the Lafer family to have her house invaded by thieves who wanted works of art.

On September 15, 2001, the home of the businessman Jacob Lafer was invaded by four men and the artworks were taken away in the family’s own car. The works, valued at R$10 million, were recovered four days later, at the home of one of the suspects, in the east side of São Paulo. The man was arrested.

5. Volpis’ robbery

Art theft
Stolen Volpis

In October 2011, six works, including Volpis, valued between R$7 and 9 million, were stolen from a house in Jardins, São Paulo. They were recovered on Thursday, March 12, 2015, in São Sebastião. Three suspects in the reception were arrested.

6. Robbery of the house of Ilbe Birosel Maksoud 

Art theft in Brazil
“Cangaceiro” by Cândido Portinari – 1950

On Mother’s Day 2009, men disguised as flower delivery broke into the house of Ilde Birosel Maksoud and stole artworks by Portinari, Picasso, Tarsila do Amaral and Orlando Teruz. Valued at R$ 3.5 million, the works were found two days later near the Palmeiras – Barra Funda station, in the west of São Paulo.

7. Pinacoteca station

Art theft
“Women in the Window”, by Di Cavalcanti, recovered.

On June 12, 2008, robbers took the work “Women in the Window” by Di Cavalcanti, “The painter and his model” and “Minotaur, drinker and women” by Picasso, as well as “Casal” by Lasar Segall, from Estação Pinacoteca, in São Paulo. With a total value estimated at R$ 1 million, the works were recovered in days and in different places in São Paulo.

Read more:
8 Brazilian modern art artists for you to know!

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