Photo: Louvre Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The summer of 1911 was an eventful time on Earth. The University of Iceland was founded in Reykjavik. The United Kingdom began using electric trolleybuses. Ginger Rogers was born in Independence, Missouri.

And the Mona Lisa – the world’s most precious portrait — went missing from the Louvre.

Back then, it wasn’t too uncommon for art to disappear from the Louvre. The 650,000 square-foot museum employed fewer than 150 guards to protect the countless paintings, sculptures, and artifacts within its confines.

When word got out about the missing Mona Lisa, France sealed its borders and began a nationwide investigation. Eight days later, the first potential clue emerged. A gentleman named Joseph Géry-Piéret contacted a local newspaper and confessed to stealing several Iberian statues from the Louvre — but not the Mona Lisa.

Nevertheless, the Parisian police were starving for leads, so they made Géry-Piéret the prime suspect in the Mona Lisa saga. They dug into his background and discovered he was connected to a well-known Spanish artist: Mr. Pablo Picasso.

Investigating Picasso’s Posse

When Picasso took up residence in Paris in 1900, he quickly gained an entourage of rabblerousers and ruffians — one of which was Joseph Géry-Piéret.

Géry-Piéret’s confession left police feeling convinced that Picasso’s posse was more than capable of stealing the Mona Lisa. They detained Picasso and a poet named Guillaume Apollinaire, charged them with the theft, and brought them to trial.

During the court proceedings, Picasso and Apollinaire each admitted to possessing the Iberian statues stolen by Géry-Piéret — and perhaps even commissioning him to carry out this crime. But, they also denied having any knowledge of the Mona Lisa’s whereabouts.

Realizing there was no evidence to tie Picasso and Apollinaire to the theft, the judge dismissed the case and allowed the men to return to their bohemian lifestyles.

The case went cold for the next two years until, finally, the real thief reared his head. Vincenzo Peruggia, a former Louvre employee, was arrested in Italy after attempting to sell the Mona Lisa to a Florentine antiques dealer. He went to prison for eight months after pleading guilty to the heist.

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Picasso painted "Three Musicians" approximately 10 years after (kinda maybe) robbing the Louvre.