Little Bits of History

She’s Gone

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 7, 2013
Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire

September 7, 1911: Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and jailed. The French poet, writer, and art critic was born in Rome to a Polish aristocratic mother (his father may have been a Swiss-Italian aristocrat). He was educated in Monaco and emigrated to France. He once said he thought the Louvre should be burned to the ground. He joined the Montparnasse, an artistic community in Paris. The group was home to Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and a host of others. He was arrested on this day and released a week later after implicating his friend, Picasso. The crime? Art theft.

Vincencio (Vincenzo) Peruggia was an Italian working at the Louvre. On Sunday, August 20, he hid inside the building after closing. The museum was to be closed the following day. On Monday morning, Peruggia mixed with other artists and blended in by wearing a white smock. He then managed to take a painting from where it hung and removed it from the protective casing and the frame. He hid the artwork under his smock and left the building. The guard station was empty, the guard having left to get a pail of water.

Peruggia hid the painting in a trunk in his apartment. Police came to question him, but believed his alibi and he was free to go. He stayed on in Paris for two years before heading back to Italy. He took an apartment in Florence and again hid the painting. He contacted Alfredo Giri, owner of a Florentine art gallery, and tried to sell the stolen artwork. He may have also been looking for a reward for the return of the picture to Italy, its “rightful” home. Peruggia was arrested; the painting was displayed across Italy and then returned to the Louvre. The Mona Lisa was back.

Leonardo da Vinci painted La Gioconda, an oil on poplar panel. The 30 x 21 inch work is entitled Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo in the Louvre. Because the painting is on wood panels, the work is affected by humidity. It was removed from the original frame and began to warp with a crack appearing. This has been repaired with two butterfly braces. In 1956 a vandal threw acid on the lower part of the painting and another person threw a rock and chipped some paint. Now in a climate controlled enclosure, the Mona Lisa smiles behind bulletproof glass.

Mona Lisa is the only beauty who went through history and retained her reputation.” – Will Rogers

Mona Lisa looks as if she has just been sick, or is about to be.” – Noel Coward

“To me it was merely a serene and subdued face, and there an end. There might be more in it, but I could not find it. The complexion was bad; in fact, it was not even human; there are no people that color.” – Mark Twain on the Mona Lisa

“You cannot paint the Mona Lisa by assigning one dab each to a thousand painters.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Montparnasse stems from Mount Parnassus, in Greek mythology the home of the nine muses. It is an area of Paris and existed both before and after it was an artists’ enclave. In 1910, the penniless intelligentsia along with artistic folks from all fields moved from Montmartre to Montparnasse. The area provided cheap rent and an atmosphere brimming with creativity. The cheap rent didn’t provide the amenities, such as running water. However, outside in the streets and cafes were the legends of the era. The artists already in place welcomed with open arms any other artistic soul coming to the area. They embraced their oddities along with their creative genius and fed off the good will and camaraderie. The beginning of World War I whispered the end of the Montparnasse experience.

Also on this day: Ann and Andy – In 1915, a patent is granted for the making of a rag doll.
Not Soccer – In 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened.
Get Out – In 1652, the Guo Huaiyi Rebellion began.

Stolen Smile

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 21, 2011

Vincenzo Peruggia, police photograph

August 21, 1911: The Louvre loses a painting. The Mona Lisa was stolen during the night. Louis Béroud went to visit the masterpiece and found only four iron pegs where the painting should have been in the Salon Carré. Béroud contacted the guards who believed the painting was legitimately missing and was being photographed as part of a marketing campaign. Béroud left and came back a few hours later. The guards had checked and found the painting was in fact, not missing legitimately, but had been stolen. The Louvre was closed for a week to investigate.

Guillaume Apollinaire, a French poet, and Pablo Picasso, a French artist were both questioned by authorities. Apollinaire had once suggested the painting should be burnt. To get suspicion away from himself, he implicated his painter friend. Both were exonerated. The painting was thought to be lost forever. Nothing more was heard about it for two years.

Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian, had entered the Louvre during regular hours and hidden himself until the museum closed. He hid the painting under his coat and walked out with it. He believed the masterpiece from Leonardo da Vinci should be kept in Italy and so removed it from its French location. Peruggia had a friend who sold copies of the painting and these skyrocketed during the time the original Mona Lisa was missing. Peruggia kept the painting in his apartment for two years before trying to sell it to the directors of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The painting was returned to Louvre, but Italians hailed Peruggia as a hero and he served just six months in jail.

During World War II the painting was removed from the Louvre and taken away for safety. After touring during the war, it was returned safe and sound to the Louvre. However, in 1956 the lower portion of the painting was damaged by a vandal dousing it with acid. Later that year, another vandal threw a rock at the painting causing more damage. Today, the painting is displayed behind bulletproof glass. Twice more, attempts have been made to deface the painting, but the new security measures saved the artwork.

Mona Lisa is the only beauty who went through history and retained her reputation.” – Will Rogers

“You cannot paint the Mona Lisa by assigning one dab each to a thousand painters.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.

“Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam.” – Alfred Whitney Griswold

Mona Lisa looks as if she has just been sick, or is about to be.” – Noel Coward

Also on this day:
USA = 50 States – In 1959, Hawaii is admitted to the United States of America as the 50th state.
The Prophet – In 1931, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion.