New Netflix true crime series This is a Robbery: The World's Biggest Art Heist traces one of the biggest and strangest art heists in America. In 1990, during Boston's St. Patrick's Day celebrations, two men disguised as police officers broke into the famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole 13 pieces of art then valued at about $200 million. Thirty years later, despite a detailed FBI investigation and a multimillion dollar reward, the art thieves were never arrested and the paintings never found.
Viewers of This is a Robbery have been entranced by the gorgeous museum and the winding investigation, which examines the eccentric art thieves and members of the mob who may have possessed at least one painting over the years. The documentary also examines why thieves would steal such famous paintings and consider whether the stolen Gardner paintings might just be sitting in some guy's basement somewhere (what a waste!). For those of us who are left re-watching the series and planning a possible visit to see the paintings still hanging at the Gardner Museum, here are the details we know so far.
What was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum?
On March 18, 1990, just after midnight on the night of Boston's St. Patrick Day festivities, two men dressed as police officers persuaded the guards at the Gardner museum to let them in to investigate a disturbance. The thieves then duck-taped the guards' wrists and heads, put them in the basement, and spent 81 minutes taking paintings down and cutting the artworks out of their frames.
The authorities interviewed in This is a Robbery suspect that the robbers knew which masterpieces to go after before they broke in. The more valuable pieces they stole include Rembrandt’s 1633 seascape Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s 1658 portrait The Concert, Govaert Flinck’s 1638 Landscape With an Obelisk, and Manet's 1875 Chez Tortoni. The thieves also took some less valuable objects, including a Shang dynasty vase and the bronze-plated eagle finial off of a Napoleonic flag. The authorities and museum employees also noted that the thieves oddly left behind some more valuable artworks, including a Pietà sketch by Michelangelo.
Were the stolen paintings ever found?
Initially, authorities believed the paintings would re-appear quickly, either to be sold on the black market or used as a bargaining chip or ransom in criminal circles. Instead, the paintings have been lost for over 30 years. The Gardener museum has gradually raised their reward for the missing paintings—from $1 million to $5 million in 1997, and then to $10 million in 2017.
In 2013, the FBI announced that they know the identity of the art thieves, but did not release the names of the thieves, saying that the investigation was ongoing and they hadn't recovered the paintings. Today the $10 million reward still stands, and the FBI has suggested that there's a "very strong possibility" that whoever returned the paintings could receive immunity. This is a Robbery director Colin Barnicle told Vanity Fair that he hopes that laying out the details of the robbery might "jog something loose" that would lead to the recovery of the paintings. According to Barnicle, the FBI agrees with his assumption that the paintings are hidden somewhere within "the greater New England network of criminals." For now, the frames where these paintings once laid hang empty in the Gardner.
You Might Also Like