Art of the Steal

After 25 years, authorities are no closer to solving the mystery of who stole $500 Mil worth of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and where said artwork is.

Back in 1990, on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day (I don’t think enough credit is given to the robbers for this brilliant tactical move. I mean, next to Christmas, is there a better time to stage a massive art heist in the heavily Irish Boston area than on the evening of St. Patty’s Day? I didn’t think so.) a couple of robbers posed as Police men and talked their way into the Gardner Museum, where they then duct taped the guards and stole a lot of very expensive artwork. The thing that has baffled authorities and art historians for years though, is that the robbers left far more valuable artwork in the museum:

They handcuffed [the guard] and another watchman in the basement, duct-taped their wrists and faces and, for 81 minutes, brazenly and clumsily cut two Rembrandts from their frames, smashed glass cases holding other works, and made off with a valuable yet oddball haul.

It included the Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Gallilee”, Vermeer’s “Concert” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni”, Degas sketches, a bronze-plated eagle, and a Shang dynasty vase secured to a table by a bulky metal device that by itself probably took 10 minutes to pull apart. Left behind were prizes like a Titian, some Sargents, Raphaels and Whistlers, and, inches from the Degas works, a Pieta sketch by Michelangelo

Many theories and scenarios have been investigated, including one theory that James “Whitey” Bulger was behind the heist. However, as the years have gone by and potential suspects have died off, it could be many years before these lost masterpieces are ever found.

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Jeffery Lincoln

I’ve been following the case with interest for years. The FBI claims they know the identity of the thieves, and the likely metro areas (Philly or CT) where the art is. There was also purportedly an attempted sale some ten years ago, which they tracked. So by that measure, they are indeed closer. But many won’t consider the case cracked until the pieces are recovered. I believe that will happen, when some mobster associate can’t resist the substantial reward money. Note in your picture that the empty frames remain. Gardner had a specific vision of how the pieces are to be displayed. The museum still honors it — as a sign of hope (or defiance) that the artwork will one day be returned.