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The Message

The Artist, the Thief, the Forger, and Her Lover

How did the “Mona Lisa” become famous? In part five in this series, the biggest art heist of all time connects the forger and the thief.

“Mona Lisa,” c. 1503–1517

She needed to disappear.

Mona Lisa” in the Louvre, before and after the heist.
A clipping from page 4A of the New York Times, on August 25, 1911.


Purloin One, Copy Many

They stole “Mona Lisa” to create #monalisa.

Thick as Forgers

Some movies involving art theft.
Stills from How to Make a Million (1966).
Trailer to How to Steal a Million (1966).

Theft & Forgery: Disappearance & Duplication

  • Michelangelo, who began his sculpting career by forging Sleeping Eros, an ancient marble statue.
  • Han van Meegeren, who made $60 million off Vermeer forgeries and fooled Herman Goering, as discussed in part one of this series.
  • Pei-Shen Qian, the Chinese emigre who did not profit from his mastery of abstract expressionism, as outlined in part three of this series.
  • Elmyr de Hory, the subject of Orson Welles’s F for Fake, who sold over a thousand forgeries — Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, Renoir — from after WWII through the ’60s.
  • Wolfgang Beltracchi, who was profiled on 60 Minutes earlier this year and claims his paintings still hang in many museums.
  • Eric Hebborn, who, after confessing to deceiving many collectors, wrote the book on art forgery — literally. It’s a how-to called The Art Forger’s Handbook (1995). Soon after, he was found dead in an alley with his skull crushed in.
  • Tom Keating, who forged up to 2,000 paintings from the ’50s through the ’70s, because he felt the art industry was corrupt, which it is.
  • Mark Landis, who for three decades fooled at least 50 museums in 20 states with minor forged art works.
Mark Landis.
“I didn’t do anything wrong or illegal,” says Mark Landis in the trailer
to Art and Craft
. Also, an exhibit, Intent to Deceive, traveling around the country, has some of Landis’ forgeries.

Stealing to Copy, Copying to Steal

They forged copies.

Artists riffing on the “Mona Lisa.”



A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

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