Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:March 20th, 2013 08:24 EST
Will Who`s Behind the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist of 1990 Ever Be Revealed?

Will Who`s Behind the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist of 1990 Ever Be Revealed?

By John G. Kays

The  `mostly unsolved` Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist, dating from March 18, 1990 ( the day after St. Patrick`s Day, in Boston no less), is the grandest art heist ever in the United States! $500 million is a rough estimate of the thieves getaway. Johannes Vermeer`s 1664 marvel alone, The Concert is (or was) valued at $200 million.  I`m glad to see that proper professional photographs were taken of this masterpiece; so exquisite, a girl striking chords on a harpsichord, a long-haired musician (with back turned) plays his lute, a woman sings gracefully against an eroticized painting in the background, The Procuress by Dirck Van Baburen.

The memory of this beautiful oil by the Dutch master Vermeer, by way of a photograph, helps in assuring that whoever has it, can`t much conceal its presence in their personally narcissistic and self-indulgent home gallery. That is, they can`t very easily fence this item, nor can they even tell a friend or a fellow collector that they are in possession of this miracle of the brush, for fear of getting ratted on! The FBI knows this well, and are boasting of a high probability of recovery of this one, along with twelve other precious relics of art.

I`d have to say, the next greatest painting stolen by some clever, yet opaque to the wonderments of Art History, thieves, is Rembrandt Van Rijn`s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, rendered in 1633.The Dutch master`s only seascape depicts a miracle of Jesus calming the seas (from Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Mark), with frothy clouds, winds (the depiction of motion), and various Disciples scurrying about the vessel attempting the steady her sails against the wrath of Mother Nature. The work itself is a miracle, portraying a real miracle, occurring 16 hundred years before Rembrandt strokes his graceful brush.

We know the thieves cut it out of its frame and did the same with A Lady and Gentleman in Black (also from 1633); the Isabella Stewart Gardner still displays their empty frames, as if to remind us of this notorious and brazen slap in the face of our most enduring artists. Distastefully, the notoriety and fame of the heist rivals these masters in popular culture. This is a pity, but is the nature of the beast, where we`re reminded of Hitchcock`s It Takes A Thief or my personal favorite, Topkapi, starring Melina Mercouri (with a noteworthy soundtrack by Manos Hadjidakis).

While only brief mention has been made of the heist itself (in recent news stories), the Wikipedia entry for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has a narrative of the crime, marked by a dash of bravado, containing quite a bit more detail and elaboration. The security at the museum (in March of 1990) wasn`t all that sterling. Well, there were only two guards on duty; this makes me think the gang who did this, specifically targeted the Gardner for this reason, and also since it contained so many priceless masterpieces. Five Degas drawing are hanging in some culprit`s parlor (possibly)!

The job took 81 minutes and began at 1:24 AM, when many people were stumbling home drunk from a Green Four-Leaf Clover celebration, that was just passing by on the time clock. One wonders whether that was intentional, thinking the guards themselves would have their defenses down. The FBI knows who these guys are, but won`t be able to arrest them, since the statute of limitations has expired. 

Many are probably dead; did Whitey have something to do with this Greatest of Art Heists? Don`t mean to start a rumor; will we ever get to see these timeless works again (other than photographs)? Or, better yet, will we get the complete picture of who did it, who put them up to it, and the progression of how the works passed from hand to hand over the past 23 years.