The Biggest Art Heist in History

My favorite museum as a kid growing up in the Boston area was the Isabella Stewart Gardner. I remember visiting its glorious venetian-inspired glass-covered courtyard of flowers, its dark and intriguing rooms full of artwork and objects and hearing bits and pieces of the story behind the empty frames seen throughout the museum. In 1990, 2 men dressed as police officers handcuffed the guards on duty and stole 13 works of art from the museum including 1 of only 34 Vermeers known to exist and Rembrandt's only seascape.

Isabella Stewart Gardner was an American art collector from New York that loved to travel and started acquiring mostly European artwork during these travels starting in the late 1880s. She purchased Vermeer's The Concert in 1891 and also acquired works from Rembrandt, Manet, Degas, Titian, Botticelli and more.

Following her husbands death in 1898, she began building a museum and residence for her collection in the Fenway area of Boston. The museum opened in 1903 and Gardner became a fixture in Boston society as she welcomed the city and its visitors into her home until she passed away in 1924.

66 years later in 1990 the museum remained relatively unchanged due to her strict instructions and was an easy target for the art thieves who would boldly spend 81 minutes walking around the museum and cutting "masterworks of our civilization" from their frames (as described in the podcast Last Seen which delves into the story of the robbery, the suspects and the theories surrounding this unsolved mystery.)

 

To hear more:

https://www.wbur.org/lastseen