20 November, 2018

The Art Heist of The Century 

While I was researching Rembrandt, I came across 'The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)', his only seascape. After googling where it was located, I realised it's famous for another reason.

On 18th March 1990, one of the biggest art heists ever known happened at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, USA. 

13 items were stolen which included the likes of Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and even Napoleon! 

The museum has indefinitely extended their $10m reward for information leading to the return of the items. It's worth noting the Napoleon item has a separate $100,000 reward. 

The FBI has been investigating this crime from the get-go and due to the statute of limitations, and a firm belief that two of the thieves have passed, they have turned their focus to recovering the paintings and not who stole them. 

Before you get into detective mode and start with Poirot's "who stands to gain from this crime?", you need to imagine how the crime happened.

How The Theft Unravelled

Not long after midnight, two thieves, imitating police officers, rang the museum buzzer and told the on-duty security guards they were responding to a disturbance.

Upon gaining entry, they proceeded by tying up the on-duty security guards and placing them in separate areas of the museum's basement before stealing 13 items over the course of 81 minutes.

Trivia - The security guards broke museum protocol by giving them entrance.

Motions sensors captured their movements and revealed they entered the Dutch Room and the Blue Room. Amazingly, the thieves walked past paintings by Raphael and took works by other renowned artists like Rembrandt, Degas and Vermeer. You'll see a full list of the stolen items at the end of the article.

The thieves made two trips to their car and left at 2:45 am. The guards were found at 8:15 am by police and the nature of what had happened became world news by the afternoon!

An investigation was launched which is still active today.

The Suspects

The FBI began an immediate investigation and over time chased any lead they received and this has taken them around the world. They believe the thieves were part of a criminal organisation based in New England.

It's believed they know who is behind the theft but chose not to reveal their identity in order to save the investigation. 

Even though the statute of limitations means the thieves cannot be charged for stealing the works. Anyone who concealed information about them, or is in possession of them, can still be charged. However, immunity deals can be struck if the items are returned.

In 2003, the FBI also revealed some of the items were offered for sale in Philadelphia.

Final Words

The story of this heist is quite fascinating. Not only the fact that's still unsolved but the manner in which they were taken. 

Usually, thefts of this magnitude automatically scream of an Oceans film or even Mission Impossible. However, posing as fake policemen to respond to a disturbance in the middle of the night can be considered farfetched but it played a pivotal role in the theft of famous works.

The items stolen were:

  • Program for an Artistic Soirée 1 - Degas (1884).
  • The Concert - Vermeer (1664–1666).
  • The Storm on the Sea of Galilee - Rembrandt (1633).
  • A Lady and Gentleman in Black - Rembrandt (1633).
  • Landscape with an Obelisk - Govert Flinck (1638).
  • Chez Tortoni - Édouard Manet (1878–1880).
  • La Sortie de Pesage - Degas.
  • Self-Portrait - Rembrandt (1634).
  • Cortege aux Environs de Florence - Degas (1857–1860).
  • Program for an Artistic Soirée 2 - Degas (1884).
  • Three Mounted Jockeys - Degas (1885–1888).
  • An ancient Chinese Gu (1200–1100 BC).
  • A bronze eagle finial (1813–1814).

If you visit the museum today, you can still see where the paintings were cut out from their frames as the museum chose not to remove them from the display.

This act of hope reaffirms their belief the artworks will return.

 
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Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist
Unsolved Crimes: The $500m Art Heist