THE THEFT

What is known about the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist—the single largest property theft in the world. Scroll to read the story.

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March 18

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as police officers entered the Gardner Museum and stole 13 works of art by world-renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas. The works, including Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Vermeer’s The Concert, are worth more than $500 million. This remains the biggest unsolved art theft in world history.

Johannes Vermeer, The Concert, 1663-1666, oil on canvas

81 MINUTES

In the early hours of March 18 a vehicle pulled up near the side entrance of the Museum. Two men in police uniforms pushed the Museum buzzer, stated they were responding to a disturbance, and requested to be let in. The guard on duty broke protocol and allowed them through the employee entrance. At the fake officers’ request he stepped away from the watchdesk. He and a second security guard were handcuffed and tied up in the basement of the Museum. The thieves departed with 13 of the Gardner’s works of art 81 minutes later.

Dutch Room

The Museum was equipped with motion detectors, so the thieves’ movements were recorded. The best known works of art were taken from the Dutch Room. They cut Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black from their frames; removed Vermeer’s The Concert and Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk from their frames; pulled an ancient Chinese bronze Gu, or beaker, from a table; and took a small self-portrait etching by Rembrandt from the side of a chest.

SHORT GALLERY & BLUE ROOM

In the Short Gallery, on the same floor as the Dutch Room, five Degas drawings and a bronze eagle finial were stolen. Manet’s Chez Tortoni was taken from the Blue Room. The thieves departed at 2:45 am, after making two separate trips to their car with the artwork. The guards remained handcuffed until police arrived at 8:15 a.m.

Édouard Manet's Chez Tortoni

INVESTIGATION

The return of the Gardner’s works remains a top priority. The Museum continues to actively investigate the theft and works in partnership with the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office. There is a $10 million reward for information leading directly to the recovery of all 13 works of art in good condition, and a separate $100,000 reward for the Napoleonic finial. Anyone with information should contact Director of Security Anthony Amore at 617 278 5114 or theft@gardnermuseum.org.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633, oil on canvas

EMPTY FRAMES

Today empty frames remain hanging in the Museum as a placeholder for the missing works and as symbols of hope awaiting their return.

Photo by Sean Dungan