Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Largest Art Robbery

18th March 1990

This day in history...The largest ever art robbery at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. 13 pieces of artwork were stolen, at the value of $500 million

There have been many art heists and large scale robberies in the history of the world, but the robbery at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was - and still is - the largest art robbery ever. Considering it only happened in 1990, the stolen paintings are yet to be found and an ongoing FBI investigation is still following up on leads. There is even a $5 million reward for any information on the location and whereabouts of any of the paintings. Whilst today's blog is a historical account of what happened during the robbery, it is still a chance to raise awareness of the stolen paintings. Therefore, if you believe you have seen, heard or know anything about the paintings, or the thieves involved, you can contact the FBI's hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit tips on the FBI website. Everything is confidential.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Facial composites of the two thieves - with and without moustaches
So lets get to the story. In the early hours of the 18th March 1990, as the city was preoccupied with St. Patrick's Day celebrations, two men disguised as Boston policemen entered the ISG Museum. At 1:24am they went to the side entrance of the building, pressed the buzzer and shouted "Police! Let us in. We heard about a disturbance in the courtyard." The two men were let in without being challenged or questioned. When they approached the security desk, there was one security man sitting there and another elsewhere. The men told the security guard that he looked familiar and that they had a warrant out for his arrest. This tricked the guard, and he stepped away form the security desk - where the only panic alert button was. They handcuffed the guard and stood him against the wall. When the other guard arrived they also handcuffed him. He proclaimed "Why are you arresting me?", the men replied "You're not being arrested. This is a robbery. Don't give us any problems and you won't get hurt." The thieves took the guards to the museum's basement, handcuffed them to pipes and wrapped duct tape around their heads, hands and feet.

The two men then went about stealing the 13 paintings from the museum. The way in which they removed certain paintings suggests they knew exactly which ones they wanted to take and how. The robbery has also puzzled experts as there were far more expensive pieces of artwork in the museum. The stolen paintings were:
Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
The 13 stolen artworks
  • The Concert by Vermeer
  • A Lady and Gentleman in Black by Rembrandt
  • The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
  • Self-Portrait by Rembrandt
  • Landscape with Obelisk by Govaert Flinck
  • Chez Tortoni by Manet
  • La Sortie de Pesage by Degas
  • Cortege aux Environs de Florence by Degas
  • Program for an artistic soiree 1 and 2 by Degas
  • Three Mounted Jockeys by Degas
  • An ancient Chinese Ku from the Shang Dynasty
  • A finial in the shape of an eagle from a Napoleonic flag
The men had to do 2 trips to their car with all the artwork and the theft lasted around 81 minutes. The guards had remained tied up in the basement until 8:15 am later that morning, when two day shift guards came to relieve them of their night shift. The police were called immediately, who in turn contacted the FBI. It wasn't until March 2013 that the FBI believed to know the identity of the thieves and that the criminal-organisation that stole the paintings was based in mid-Atlantic and New England. The FBI also believes that some of the paintings were sold in Philadelphia in the 2000s.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Billboards around Philadelphia
Media attention: Several TV programmes have featured stolen paintings in their episodes to bring attention to the robbery, highlight its importance and, in some cases add satire to the situation. Examples include; The Simpsons episode 'American History X-cellent, featuring Mr. Burns owning the The Concert painting; The Venture Bros. also features a villain stealing one of the paintings. Novels have also focused on the heist like; Irreplaceable by Charles Pinning; The Art Forger by Barbara A. Shapiro; and Dutch Reckoning by Michael G. West. The recent 2013 film Trance also makes early reference to The Storm of the Sea of Galilee painting, and later on in the film shows the Rembrandt painting, The Concert and Chez Tortoni.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Vincent Cassel playing Franck in Trance - the stolen painting
As I've said before, this is an ongoing investigation so any information regarding these paintings is vital. The Museum still has the empty frames up for the return of the paintings and the Museum's chief of security, Anthony Amore, has said "23 years since the robbery. That's far too long. It's time for these paintings to come home."

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
The empty frames at the Museum
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