The Takeaway Rembrandt

The most frequently stolen artwork is ‘The Ghent Altarpiece’ or ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, the joint work of Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, stolen 6 or 7 times over 6 centuries. But Streatham features in the story of the second most stolen artwork in history!

Rembrandt’s 1632 painting of Jacob de Gheyn 111 (1596-1641) who was a Dutch Golden Age engraver is in the Dulwich Picture Gallery and only measures 29.9 x 24.9 centimetres - smaller than most of Rembrandt’s work, so perhaps easier to steal. The painting has disappeared on 4 separate occasions since 1966 and is now known as the ‘Takeaway Rembrandt’. It was painted as one of a pair along with a portrait of Maurits Huygens, a friend of de Gheyn, which is now in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg.

The first theft was in 1966 when thieves broke into the Dulwich Picture Gallery and stole nine paintings, including three Rembrandts and a Rubens drawing. The Rembrandts were discovered shortly afterwards under a bush near The Rookery by a man walking his dog on Streatham Common. The rest of the haul was found in a nearby cemetery. No one was charged.

Next, a visitor to the Gallery stuffed the painting under his sweater and walked out of the building. He was found quickly cycling around the South Circular with the painting in the basket of his bike. He said the painting reminded him of his mother when asked why he had stolen it.

In late 1981 the painting disappeared again. The crime was only discovered some weeks later when police found the painting in a taxi with four men. We are unsure whether anyone was ever charged, the recovery was kept murky!

A dramatic theft occurred in 1983. Thieves entered the gallery through a smashed skylight and shimmied down a rope à la Mission Impossible. The alarm went off and police arrived within three minutes, but the thieves had already gone with the picture! On October 8, 1986, police received an anonymous tip that it was in the left luggage section of a railway station by the British barracks in Munster, Germany. So, the ‘takeaway’ Rembrandt was returned to the Gallery for the fourth time, where it remains.