It was a dark night sometime after midnight at the start of March 18th, 1990. Two police officers slowly approached the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. They began talking with the night security guards. After a short time they were able to convince the security guards to let them in the museum. They then escorted the security guards to an area hidden from view and proceeded to hand cuff them.
Over the next couple hours the “police” stole thirteen paints from the museum. These paintings are valued at over 500 million dollars. Some of the works they stole included one of Johannes Vermeer’s thirty-five known paintings titled The Concert. Others they took included three pieces by Rembrandt, including his only seascape The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Also taken were a series of drawings by Edgar Degas, pieces by Manet and Flinck and two objects. These objects were a Chinese Ku and a finial from a a Napoleonic flag. Today nine of the empty frames still remaining hanging in the museum. Some people believe this to have been in Gardner’s will, but that is not true. .
In the 90s people inclined to belief James Bulger a.k.a. Whitey had played a key role in the theft. This belief has been struck down, however, by members of the Bulger gang and the federal government’s prosecutors. Today it is believed the an IRA faction has the paintings but there remains no proof of this.
The theft has been the subject of many items of popular culture. There was a 2005 documentary titled Stolen that focuses on the theft. The novel the Music Lesson by Katharine Weber discusses a possible explanation for the theft that involves the IRA. The theft inspired a 2010 novel by David Hosp titled Among Thieves. In Best Laid Plans by Sonny Douglass is a fictionalized version of the theft. In a The Simpsons episode titled American History X-cellent one of the stolen paintings is found in the possession of Mr. Burns.
The museum is offering a reward of 5 million dollars for knowledge leading to the safe return of the paintings. This theft is considered the biggest art theft in history. If you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the paintings please contact your local authorities or the nearest US Embassy.
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