On this day in 1911 the Mona Lisa was not where she should have been, she was not hanging in the Louvre in Paris. She had been stolen The theft was discovered when an artist called Louis Béroud arrived to make a sketch of Leonardo’s work for a painting he was working on. Confronted with only four iron pegs in the wall where the Mona Lisa once hung, he contacted the guards. They thought that the painting had probably been taken away to be photographed. Several hours later it turned out that the photographers didn’t have her either. The whole gallery was closed for a week whilst the theft was investigated.
The poet Apolinnaire was arrested because he had once called for the Louvre to be burnt down. He said he thought it might have been his friend Pablo Picasso. He was brought in for questioning too. The pair were eventually exonerated but no one would know what had become of the painting for the next two years. Surprisingly, before the painting was stolen, it wasn’t that famous. After the theft though, thousand flocked to the Louvre to look at the empty space on the wall. They left notes and flowers. The museum had never been so busy.
Eventually the thief turned out to be a former employee of the Louvre called Vincenzo Peruggia. He had gone into the museum during the day, hidden himself in a broom cupboard then come out after the museum was closed and simply helped himself. Peruggia had kept the painting hidden in his apartment for two years and was eventually caught when he tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Italy was his home country and he was fiercely patriotic. He believed that the painting should be returned to it’s native land. He imagined that it had been stolen by Napoleon, which was not true. He was sentenced to one year and fifteen days in jail for his crime. But in Italy, he was hailed as a patriot and released after only seven months.