Gardner Museum Heist, 1990

[caption id="attachment_1455" align="alignleft" width="300"]Isabella
Stewart Gardner Museum The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, courtesy Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

Update: As of October 21, 2013 there is video related to this post on our website.

Anyone who lives in or near Boston, or even just visits, is really missing out if they don’t go spend an afternoon at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The building is lovely and impressive, and I can only imagine what it was like when the eccentric Ms. Gardner still lived on the top floor. While this is not your typical art museum, it certainly is, first and foremost, a museum that displays important and beautiful pieces of art. It was, therefore, quite a blow when 13 paintings, drawings, and artifacts were stolen in 1990. The estimated worth of the stolen works is 500 million dollars, which makes the robbery, not only the largest art theft, but the largest property theft ever.

The story, as told by the museum, is that the thieves, dressed as police officers, tricked the guard on duty by saying they were responding to a call from the museum. Once they had gained entry, they handcuffed the guards and secured them to pipes in the basement. They stole many works of art including Vermeer’s The Concert, three Rembrandts, a Manet, and five drawings by Degas. I share the Gardner Museum’s hope to one day recover the pieces, even if they never apprehend the thieves. Degas is my favorite artist, and I would be thrilled to see those drawings.

In the last few years, the ongoing investigation has had what looked like hopeful leads, although nothing has resulting in solving the case. With the 2011 capture of Boston organized crime figure Whitey Bulger, the FBI was hoping to get new leads. It’s not certain that Bulger was in anyway connected to the crime, but he knew everyone in Boston’s crime world, so he probably has some information.

The case continues to be pursued by the Museum and the FBI. The Museum continues to display the empty frames where the artworks should be. “We decided collectively to put them back up in order to observe a mourning, so people could recognize this loss and also so people would be vigilant about the need to get them back,” says Museum Director Anne Hawley.


“Art Museum Offers Reward.” Harvard Crimson, March, 221, 1990.

Felch, Jason. “What does Whitey Bulger know about the 1990 Gardner Museum art heist?” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2011.

“Museum Theft Stumps Police.” Harvard Crimson, April, 03, 1990.

Nadrich, Lindsay. “22 Years Later, $300 Million Art Theft Investigation Heats Up.” CNBC, May 16, 2012.