Gardner Art Heist Anniversary

Twenty years ago today, two armed men entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and performed one of the biggest art heists in history. In a little over an hour, these two men stole an estimated $300-500 million by grabbing thirteen works of art. Some of the stolen paintings included Vermeer’s The Concert (1658-1660) and Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633, shown right). This Rembrandt painting is especially of interest, since it is the only known seascape by the artist.

And now, twenty years later, investigators are making another effort to try and get the stolen art back. The Associated Press reported this week that two billboards have appeared on Interstates 93 and 495, advertising the $5 million reward.

I bet there aren’t a lot of crimes which receive billboard attention twenty years after the fact. Although I kind of doubt that billboard signs are going to help recover these famous works of art, who knows? I hope that the Gardner museum gets its collection back one day.

*The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has been in the news recently, due to a controversial modern wing that will be built onto the museum. You can read my take on the subject here.

  • heidenkind says:

    I heard somewhere that they think the IRA was in involved in the theft–so that ties in with the anniversary AND St. Patrick's Day! (j/k)

  • Davidikus says:

    I have the same doubts about billboards, but perhaps they know something that we don't OR they are trying to educate the audience?

    Any loss of a Vermeer is a great loss, there aren't that many of them around!

  • e says:

    WOW! What happens to art when it is stolen? I'm assuming that it is either stolen to be sold or that it is stolen by the person who wants it (they hire people to steal it). But, what's the point of stealing it and/or buying stolen art? Could you actually ever dare to display it or would it have to remain hidden forever?

    Also, I read the link you gave about the heist. I was not at all surprised to hear that the thieves overpowered the guards.
    I have often thought (and remarked many times to people) that the guards in art museums are such a joke. I mean, what are they going to do? Flashlight someone to death? I'm probably just too used to the guards at my museum who have weapons, but it seems like there would be better security. But, at the end of the day, if someone wants to steal something bad enough, they will find a way.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments! e, I wanted to respond a little bit to your questions. When art is stolen, it sometimes works its way into the hands of a collector, but that doesn't always happen. Gangsters often use famous paintings for collateral, and then the paintings end up getting shifted around and transferred amongst gangsters several times. All in all, the paintings could end up in really poor condition.

    Ulrich Boser wrote a book last year called The Gardner Heist, in which he claimed to reveal the two men who stole from the museum twenty years ago. I read the book last year; it was quite a disappointment. Since there isn't a book's worth of information about the Gardner crime, Boser added a lot of filler material about art crime in general. That was boring to me, especially since I've read other books on art theft that contain the same information. Even Boser's unveiling of the two theives was disappointing, since one thief is in jail and the other is dead.

    Anyhow, I thought I'd send you this link to answer your other questions. I noticed these short little facts in this week's edition of Newsweek, and I think you'll find it interesting.

    I had to chuckle at your comment about museum guards. In Boser's book, he talks about how the guards were completely incompetent. They were young college-age students, and one of them had not been working at the museum for very long. Actually, if I remember right, I the guards were drinking on the evening that the heist took place. The whole story is ridiculous and sad.

  • e says:

    Great link, M!

    A couple of things that stood out to me from the article:
    -If I were Boser I'd be worried. Isn't it incredibly dangerous for him to be calling the mob out on a heist? Geez, I wonder if he fears for his life.
    -The Henry Moore sculpture that was worth $4.5 MILLION and sold for $2,000 for scraps! That is sickening.
    -I can't believe how many Picasso paintings have been stolen!

  • 天氣落差 says:


  • Hels says:

    I walked through the Museum quite some time after the thefts and found it all very sad. The spaces where the stolen paintings had hung were intentionally left vacant and a small note was placed explaining the empty spaces. And they didn't clean the darkish marks on the wall that always appear, once the faded rectangle of paint has been exposed to bright sunlight.

    It IS sad. The thieves were very knowledgable – they took the prize pieces and left the less treasured art works.

  • little augury says:

    Isabel stays au courant, No? I think the paintings will one day be restored-I adore the Gardner

Email Subscription



This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.