The mystery of the stolen masterpieces

Twenty-three years ago, thieves dressed like police officers robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, taking 13 masterpieces of the world’s art.  One of them is one of my favorite paintings:  Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”  (I love the turmoil and struggle of the disciples who are looking away from Jesus trying to right their own ship, contrasted with the serenity of those looking to Jesus.  And the composition of the painting, in which all of the lines point through the darkness to Him.)  Anyway, if you bought this painting out of the trunk of someone’s car and have it hanging in your rec room, beware.  The FBI is saying they are close to solving the case.


Details about the case after the jump.

Part of the mystery is why steal these paintings?  The works are worth $500 million, but they are so famous they would be impossible to sell.  Was the theft a plot by some crazed collector?  Who could never show anyone his collection?  At any rate, we may soon have answers.  From Katharine Q. Seelye in the New York Times:

It was one of the most brazen art thefts in history. Two thieves, posing as police officers, prevailed on the night watchman at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to let them in. After tying him up, and a leisurely 81 minutes, they walked out with 13 works of art and into the annals of one of the world’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

Two paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which provided images of the works, are Vermeer’s “The Concert” . . . and Rembrandt’s “A Lady and Gentleman in Black.”

The haul, including works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet and Degas, were valued at $500 million. The heist remains the largest property crime in American history.

On Monday, 23 years to the day after the theft, federal officials announced that they knew the identities of the thieves and said they belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the mid-Atlantic States.

The officials did not identify the thieves further, saying the investigation was continuing. They did say they believed they had traced the paintings to Connecticut and to the Philadelphia area a decade ago, but those trails had since grown cold.

“Today, we are pleased to announce that the F.B.I. has made significant investigative progress in the search for the stolen art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,” Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Boston office, said at a news conference.

The announcement on Monday appeared timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1990 heist rather than because of any recently unearthed information. But Mr. DesLauriers said the investigation was nearing its “final chapter.” And Carmen Ortiz, a United States attorney who also attended the news conference, said: “I think we’re all optimistic that one day soon the paintings would be returned to their rightful place.”

via F.B.I. Says It Has Clues in ’90 Boston Art Heist –

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  • Kirk

    Now, I’m no great criminal mind, but I’ve never understood why you’d steal art. It’s not like jewels, gold or cash since it’s valued for its uniqueness. People will notice if you hang it prominently in your home, it’ll be reclaimed if its sold to a dealer or museum. I can’t imagine there’s a whole ton of value in stolen art unless you’re selling it to rogue states, or something.

  • Tom Hering

    I suppose great art is a status symbol for rich criminals as much as it is for any other rich person. They show it off, privately, to their other rich criminal friends. Then there are private collectors abroad, who aren’t too worried about the FBI. And then there are insurance companies, who’ll pay a nice ransom if it means they don’t have to cover the full amount of the loss.

  • A theft like this is stealing from all of us. It is truly a crime against humanity. I’m glad to hear they are close to solving the case, but I hope that means they will be recovering the paintings! How could you “enjoy” looking at paintings you know were stolen? Very sad.

  • Tom Hering

    Then there’s the FBI’s press conference. “We haven’t actually solved the case. But we’re getting closer. Really we are.” What’s that all about?

  • Tom Hering

    How could you “enjoy” looking at paintings you know were stolen? (@ 3)

    Sin isn’t enjoyable?

  • Reminds me of a Father Brown movie I once watched, a rich criminal with a bunch of stolen art… Didn’t find the same scene though in the books.
    Yes, I imagine that there are art thieves who steal for the Thomas Crown effect, just for the rush of getting away with it, and owning it if but for a short time. And yes I imagine there are buyers out there.
    Tom, we really have to stop agreeing so much. Gene needs to post something about the glory of hamburgers quick or the equilibrium in here will be off.

  • elizabeth

    Seems Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” might be a visual for the post a few days ago, ” “Radical” Christianity vs. regular Christianity.

  • Kirk @1 — to understand, I’d suggest watching the movie Never a Dull Moment with Dick van Dyke 😉