Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Heist at the Gardner Museum

In March 1990, art thieves, dressed as policemen, committed one of the most stunning art thefts in history by breaking into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stealing thirteen works of art worth more than $300 million dollars. 

The stolen paintings included a Vermeer, three Rembrandts, five Degas and a Manet. To this day, the crime remains unsolved and the FBI lists it as one of the Top Ten art crimes of all time.

My original intent for this post was to focus on a novel about this theft, called The Art Forger, and you can read my thoughts on that book below. But yesterday, on the 23rd anniversary of the thefts, the FBI announced that have identified the thieves. That kind of news trumps a novel, even if it is a good one.

The FBI is not releasing the names because they are still searching for the stolen art, but it is still a big deal for a case that has lasted for so long. 

The statute of limitations for the actual theft of the art has expired, according to the FBI, but anyone who has stolen art and is aware that it's been stolen, is committing a crime. 

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum still has empty frames where the art work hung before the brazen theft. You can see photos of the stolen art here and you can read more about the heist and the FBI's announcement here. The Museum itself is beautiful and there is plenty of art still left. If you are in Boston, I highly recommend a visit. If the stolen paintings are returned after 23 years, it will be quite an event. 

The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro

It's on this art theft that B.A. Shapiro chose to focus her novel, The Art Forger.  The main character is a female artist who makes her living making perfectly legal copies of master works and sells them on the Internet... Until one day a contact of hers shows up with one of the stolen Degas paintings from the Gardiner. 

The theft makes an interesting landscape for Shapiro's plot full of twists and turns. The Art Forger is a fun romp through Boston and this faux art world.  I recommend it. 

If you want to learn more about the theft at the Gardiner, there are several good non-fiction accounts, including The Gardiner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft, by Ulrich Boser

But after today, there may be another chapter to those books. 

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