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.”