19 March 2010

Check the Rembrandt in your bathroom

Last year I reviewed a book called THE GARDNER HEIST by Ulrich Boser, about an unsolved theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in which two thieves disguised as police officers picked up some $500 million in art including the famous Rembrandt seen at left.

The case is back in the news this week because the Boston police department has bought some billboards mentioning the tip line and a $5 million reward for information, on the 20th anniversary of the heist. The New York Times notes, however, that the statute of limitations for prosecuting the thieves has run out -- in other words, they're not mad, they just want the art back.

It was believed for a long time that the culprits were low-level thugs with ties to various Boston-based criminal organizations, but their taste was incredibly sophisticated -- they clearly had been well-informed to pick out the valuable and significant pieces that they did, and not just rush in, cut a few canvases and rush out. Whoever they were working for had the good sense not to fence any of the pieces, but then what was their motivation if not money?

In keeping with the museum charter, which demands that it be left just as founder and benefactor Gardner intended, the galleries still contain empty spaces where the paintings used to hang. But don't wait until it's solved to go -- it's a lovely building (especially this time of year with the courtyards in bloom) and an incredible if incomplete collection. And read the Boser book, but skip the documentary on the same topic.


8yearoldsdude said...

Are we sure they didn't fence the pieces or just that they didn't put them in obvious places like auction houses?

The Gardener is a nuthouse of a museum, but delightful in its own way.

Ellen said...

Well, we can't be sure, but they would be incredibly hard to fence given how high-profile the heist was. The author speculated that they're in a private vault somewhere.