Gardner heist a mystery 25 years later
March 18, 2015, marks 25 years since the Gardner heist, when thieves removed prized works of art from a Boston museum.
On the morning of March 18, 1990, 13 works of art were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by two men disguised as police officers. The works are collectively valued at more than $500 million, making it the largest private property theft ever.
The paintings included works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Manet. Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” oil painting was among them, which thieves took by cutting it from the frame. The damage is only worsened by the fact that this is Rembrandt’s only seascape. Another painting, Vermeer’s “The Concert,” is one of only 34 known works by the artist in the world.
Oddly enough, one of the items stolen was the top of a flag pole (the “finial”) shaped like an eagle from a Napoleonic flag. The thieves had to walk past works by Raphael and Botticelli to take the finial.
Anne Hawley, the museum’s director, talks about the theft and the toll it’s taken on her and the museum in this article from the Boston Globe. She had joined the museum only months prior to when the theft occurred, and has announced she will retire at the end of this year.
“So much energy had been expended on it,” she said. “At a certain point I developed this distancing capacity. I wouldn’t believe in anything. I would just be clinical about it.”
The investigation has followed up on hundreds of leads, taking the FBI to Boston, Japan, France and Ireland. On March 18, 2013, the FBI announced it knew who was responsible for the crime, and a $5 million reward is offered for information leading to the recovery of the works.
Now, 25 years since the heist occurred, the investigation is ongoing and the artwork is still missing. The empty frames hang in the museum in homage to the missing works; they also serve as placeholders should the art ever be returned.
The Boston Globe’s coverage of the Gardner heist includes this video that details how the crime was committed as well as an open letter by art critic Sebastian Smee asking for the return of the works. Smee writes:
“Please return the stolen paintings. They belong in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, an extraordinary place, which should not have to be connected in anyone’s mind with empty frames and stories about art heists and skulduggery [sic]. But thanks to you, it is.”