In 1972, three men broke into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and drove out with 39 small objects and 18 paintings. According to reports, it took the armed thieves about an hour and a half to enter the museum through a skylight covered in plastic due to construction work (it was the only one unalarmed). They then overpowered the three guards on duty (gagging, blindfolding, and binding them), and one stood guard while the other two collected their stash (valued at some $2 million; I wonder how much those items are worth today?).
It appears that initially, the thieves planned on exiting the Montreal museum through the skylight but then realized that one of the guards had keys to a museum truck. When they left the museum through one of the side doors, they set off the alarm and fled on foot; each was carrying some of the stolen items.
Among the stolen paintings were La rêveuse á la fontaine (The Dreaming Woman at the Fountain) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Landscape with rocks and stream by Gustave Courbet, La barrateuse (Young Woman Churning) by Jean-François Millet, Landscape with Cottages by Rembrandt van Rijn, Head of a Young Man by Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Brigadier General Sir Thomas Fletcher by Thomas Gainsborough, and Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix’s Lioness and lion in a cave. Most of the paintings were less than a foot long, the largest being the Courbet (about 3 feet in length). The Corot was close behind in size (I can tell you that in today’s market, the Corot is worth much more than $2M).
Sadly, several other ‘things’ took place over that same weekend, generating far more attention from the news. These included a fire that three men set at the Blue Bird Café and the Wagon Wheel bar in Montreal, killing 37 people, and Canada losing the opening game at the Summit Series to the Soviet Union. Then a few days later, members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September broke into the Israeli quarters at the Munich Olympics, killing two and taking nine hostages (in the end, all the hostages were killed). So, it seems that other events overshadowed the news of the theft.
At one point, ransom negotiations were going on, and the thieves returned one of the works – a Breughel in a show of good faith. But that soon fell apart. Interestingly, the Brueghel was subsequently deemed to be a fake by an art historian. Over the years, reports have surfaced that several stolen works might not be authentic.
Now, 50 years later, the Montreal theft, known as the Skylight Caper, appears to be one of those ‘cold case files.’ We all hope the stolen items will surface and be returned one day.