Art Crime in Brazil

International art crime is a phenomenon that is on the rise in conjunction with the struggling world economy; however, the trend is particularly emphasized in Latin American countries where such artistic valuables are often unprotected (Werner, 3). This paper will focus on art crime in Brazil and produce a clear examination of the heists that have occurred up until this time. Heists that will be looked at are as follows: the Museum of Chácara do Céu, the São Paulo Museum of Art and the Pinacoteca do Estado of São Paulo. This paper will also briefly introduce the illegal selling of such precious artworks and how they are found and returned to the rightful owners. Illegally selling art abroad is not uncommon.

During Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, four armed thieves (Bazley, 58) made their escape through the crowds while casually getting away with stealing Pablo Picasso’s The Dance and the book Toros by Picasso, Henri Matisse’s Garden of Luxembourg, Salvador Dalí’s Two Balconies and Claude Monet’s Marine. The “collection” stolen that day was estimated at $50 million (Bazley, 58) and the paintings were part of the museum’s most important overall collection; specifically, the Salvador Dalí painting which was the only one by the artist on public exhibition in all of Latin America at that time. The thieves of this February 26, 2006, heist (Bazley, 58) used force and speed to accomplish their task at hand; they forced the staff of the museum to disable the building’s security and camera systems, and mugged five tourists and assaulted two police officers who had attempted to stop the accused. The swiftness of the heist does not go unrecognized because the crime was specific, targeting just these paintings; the thieves knew exactly what they were taking which leads to the idea of them being professionals or had been hired to pull off the heist for someone else (Agence France-Presse). The paintings have not been recovered to this day (Bazley, 58) and this heist is on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) current list of Top Ten Art Crimes (Werner, 3).

The São Paulo Museum of Art was targeted on December 20, 2007, by three burglars who made off with Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Suzanne Bloch and Cândido Portinari’s The Coffee Worker. The stolen pair of paintings, which were both centre pieces in the museum, (Philips) were valued at an estimated $56 million with the Picasso valued at $50 million and Brazilian artist Portinari’s painting valued approximately at $5.5 million (Bazley, 59). In the early stages of the investigation, police officers believed that the heist was followed out by international, professional criminals, but it turned out to be a local job (Philips) as “evidence” showed that the thieves stole two paintings from two different rooms far from one another. In addition, the thieves had bypassed other/more valuable paintings during the heist hence being a targeted attack. The raid had been planned with detail and was a part of an inside job as the thieves were in and out of the building within minutes during a guard shift change (Bazley, 59). The paintings were recovered, the suspects were arrested and the theft was orchestrated by a Saudi art collector (Bazley, 59) who had wanted the paintings for his own collection. The works are well-known pieces and of great interest to collectors which will not be sold just anywhere because of their status (Philips).

The last large-scale art theft to be examined in Brazil is the Pinacoteca do Estado of São Paulo in June 2008 which was less than a year after the São Paulo Museum of Art heist. Three armed robbers paid an entrance fee to the museum and managed to overpower the guards on duty. The robbers walked away with Brazilian artists: Lasar Segall’s Couple, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti’s Women in the Window, and Pablo Picasso’s Minotaur, Drinker and Women and The Painter and the Model prints all of which share the combined value of $612 000 (Bazley, 60). The theft was ordered similar to that of the other two examples because only certain works were being wanted. All of the works except for Pablo Picasso’s Minotaur, Drinker and Women were recovered and two of the three suspects were arrested (Bazley, 60).

Some but not often times, stolen works of art are recovered many years later. Illegally traded art normally ends up in New York City. The attorney’s office handed over two paintings to Brazil on September 21, 2010, both of which have been missing in action since 2006. The paintings are Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave and Joaquín Torres García’s Figures dans une structure which were allegedly smuggled out of Brazil by Edemar Cid Ferreira. Brazilian authorities seized and confiscated his assets, in particular, his vast art collection after his bank was charged with fraud and over $1 billion in debt but found that $30 million was missing. The paintings were smuggled through customs because Ferreira had declared that they were other paintings not worth a lot of money. Roy Lichtenstein’s painting was sold to collector Seth Landsberg and then seized when it was put up for auction with Sotheby’s in 2008. Between 2009 and 2010, claims by the art dealers and trustee were dropped and the paintings became US property until being returned to the Brazilian government. In 1970, a UNESCO Convention compels the United States and other consenting countries to cooperate in fighting the global trade in illegal art. The treaty is mostly used in case studies with stolen antiquities but more recently now covers art smuggling cases (Bishop).

In conclusion, a high majority of art crime within Latin America happens in Brazil. Unfortunately, it is such a reoccurring issue because artistic valuables are often unprotected.

This paper has focused on producing clear examinations of the heists at the Museum of Chácara do Céu, the São Paulo Museum of Art and the Pinacoteca do Estado of São Paulo, as well as briefly introducing the illegal selling of precious artworks and how they are found and returned to their rightful owners.

Leah Carleton

Works Cited

Bazley, Tom. (2010). Crimes of the Art World. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, Print.

Bishop, Marlon. (2010). “Lichtenstein and Torres Garcia Paintings Head Back to Brazil.” WNYC

Website. <;.

France-Presse, Agence. (2006). “Brazil Art Heist Is Cloaked by Carnival.” The New York Times.


Phillips, Tom. (2007). “Art thieves net 50m worth of paintings from Brazilian gallery.” The

Guardian. <;.

Werner, Louis. (2009). “Art theft online.” Americas 61: 3.

This entry was posted in art crime, Brasil, carnival, Dali, Lichtenstein, Matisse, Picasso, theft, Torres García, UNESCO. Bookmark the permalink.

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