The Theft Of The Mona Lisa

The Theft Of The Mona Lisa

Paris, 1911. A poor, Italian, carpenter named Perugia begins working a short-term contract at the Louvre. As with any menial job, he learns many menial things, such as where the entrances and exits are, the guards' names, rotations and the like. Little did he know that this otherwise useless information would prove to be quite important. For it is when Perugia’s contract ends that his destiny begins.

Fate taps Perugia on the shoulder.

Eduardo de Valfierno, a criminal mastermind, asks Perugia to steal the Mona Lisa for $30,000. That’s nearly a million dollars back then, an offer a poor carpenter could never refuse.

The adventure of the theft is a story in and of itself. In short, through luck, cunning, and lazy security Perugia actually succeeds.

The carpenter steals the Mona Lisa and the theft makes world news.

As promised, he produces the Mona Lisa. Valfierno the mastermind produces the money. But he makes a strange request. He asks the carpenter to hold onto the work of art just a little longer so he can arrange for her transit overseas. Perugia agrees and waits, and waits and waits. His story ends here.

Enter Yves Chaudron.

Six months before the theft, Valfierno commissions Yves Chaudron, the world's greatest forger, to reproduce the Mona Lisa six times and he wants them to be perfect replicas, an Herculean task only Chaudron could accomplish.

Valfierno then travels across Europe and to America and finds six of the greediest art collectors and poses this question to them:

"Should the Mona Lisa suddenly become available, would you pay three hundred thousand dollars for it?”

He asks all six, and all six say, "Yes.”

And that is when Valfierno pays Perugia to steal the Mona Lisa. He then ships Chaudron’s perfect fakes and collects $1.8 million from all six art collectors. A fortune beyond comprehension.

You see, all he needed was the news of the theft, not the Mona Lisa. To him, she herself, was worthless. And that is the story of the theft of the Mona Lisa.

Obviously, we don’t condone theft, but there are a few key points to this story:

1. Validate the idea. Before the painting was ever stolen, Valfierno validated his idea and lined up 6 buyers.

2. Preparation and planning for months. If the conmen could plan for months on end before launching their plan, you probably should have a plan before launching your next big idea. It doesn’t need to be formatted in the perfect font, but you should have a strategy and plan in place.

3. Get the right people on the team. They had the best forger, a great salesman, and the guy who knew all the ins and outs of the Louvre.

And remember, if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is (ask the conned art collectors).

You can read more about the real story here (and rumor has it, it’s just that).

The format for this story was adapted from the movie The Art of the Steal.

(photo via trey ratcliff)