Things You Didn’t Know About Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

It feels like there’s always more to discover about the biggest art heist in history.

Isabella Gardner Museum
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

If you’re like us, you’ve been obsessing over Netflix’s newest crime docu-series focused on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, This is a Robbery: The World’s Greatest Art Heist. Here are some intriguing facts about the incident, along with some other things you didn’t know!

First, let’s break down what happened. At 1 a.m. on March 18, 1990, while the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities continued on, two people acting as Boston officers entered Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole 13 valuable pieces of art.

All 13 pieces were stolen in 81 minutes.

the eagle
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

The museum apparently lacked sufficient security, and the robbers dressed up as police officers to trick the guards on duty. They duct-taped the guard’s mouths and trapped him in the basement. Then, the thieves rushed to the galleries, stealing 13 masterpieces in 81 minutes. They left at 2:45 a.m. with artworks in tow while no one came for the guards until the next shift.

The thieves stole some incredible and notable works.

Storm See Galilee Rambrandt
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

The pieces stolen included numerous masterpieces by Rembrandt, such as: Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, which was the Dutch painter’s only seascape. There were also Rambrandt’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and A Lady and Gentleman in Black. Along with pieces by Vermeer, including: The Concert, which was Isabella Stewart Gardner’s first major acquisition. Many consider The Concert to be one of the most valuable objects ever to be stolen.

Isabella Gardner Museum
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

The thieves also took some of Edgar Degas’ sketches, including: Three Mounted Jockeys. As well as an ancient Chinese beaker from the 12th century BC known as the Gu, and a painting named Chez Tortoni by Édouard Manet. In addition, the robbers took the eagle finial at the top of the flagpole from Napoleon’s First Regiment of Imperial Guard. They attempted to steal the entire flag but it seemed they could not, so they simply made away with the eagle.

Many rooms in the museum have empty frames to signify the stolen art.

Isabella Gardner Museum
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

As a reminder of the theft, the Dutch Room hold empty frames where the stolen artworks previously were or would’ve been if they were still inside. These frames represent the hope that they may return one day. You can explore these stolen artworks further and take a peek inside the museum here.

The stolen artworks is valued at a combined USD $500 million today, but one of the most expensive pieces is still there.

Isabella Gardner Museum
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

All of the art stolen is valued at a whopping USD $500 million, making this the greatest art theft in modern history. What was surprising was the criminals’ decision to leave Titian’s The Rape of Europa, which is considered an incredibly valuable piece within the art community. Hence, it’s shocking that the thieves left it behind. You can see Titian’s painting in person in the Boston museum today.

The case remains unsolved.

Despite efforts from the FBI, the US Attorney’s office, and the museum; this case remains unsolved. The crime occurred 31 years ago but there is little evidence, inadequate knowledge of viable suspects, and lack of leads.

The FBI identified two men, George Reissfelder and Leonard DiMuzio, as possible and highly likely suspects, especially due to their alleged association with the Boston mafia. They matched the police sketches, but died within a year of the crime. Some also suspected insider involvement, particularly invovling the security guard, Rick Abath, who was under the influence on the night of the theft. There were a few infractions prior where he let people into the museum and instances on the night of the robbery when he opened the door prior to the thieves entering the premise. Although authorities cleared him and that he has always claimed innocence, many remain suspicious of Abath’s involvement.

There remains uncertainty regarding where the artwork ended up due to an unclear trail, but investigators have believed them to be hidden in the regions near Connecticut and Philadelphia.

The Gardner Museum is offering a reward of USD $10 million.

Isabella Gardner Museum
Photo by @gardnermuseum on Instagram 

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains dedicated to finding the thieves and recovering the stolen works. They are offering a reward of USD $10 million for any information that leads to the recovery of these masterpieces. The museum is also offering a separate reward of USD $100,000 just for the recovery of the Napoleonic eagle finial.

They encourage anyone with information to reach out to the museum personally at reward@gardnermuseum.org or 617-278-5114.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is located in Boston with a large collection of art from America, Asia, and Europe. There are over 7,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, along with thousands of archival objects from ancient civilizations. If you would like to see where the heist took place and admire beautiful art from around the world, the museum is open for visitation.

Avani Goswami

Social Media Associate

Avani is an avid reader and a lover of learning. She enjoys writing and seeks out new adventures everyday. Her passion is representation and equality for people all over the globe.

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