The Art World’s Great Mystery

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the theft of 13 works of art totaling $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. On March 18, 1990, in a plot that one imagines could only happen in the movies, two thieves disguised as police officers were buzzed into the museum by a security guard in the early morning hours. They then bound and handcuffed both guards on duty before stealing a number of Rembrandts (including his only known seascape), a Vermeer, and five Degas drawings, among other objects. The Museum initially offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the works, but 25 years later the case remains open.

In 2013 the FBI announced that they believed the theft had been carried out by a New England-based crime organization and that some of the works had possibly been sold around Philadelphia in the early 2000s. Today all 13 works are still missing.

The theft has been the subject of much speculation and attention in popular culture, including Barbara A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger from 2012. Claire Roth is a struggling artist, reduced to creating copies of masterworks to make a living instead of forwarding her own career. She is approached by a gallery owner and agrees to forge a Degas drawing that was stolen during the famous heist in exchange for an exhibition of her own work. Claire quickly realizes the situation is more complicated—and more dangerous—than she could have ever imagined. Sounds like perfect reading for today!




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