The Gardner Museum Doubles Its Reward For Artwork Stolen In 1990

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts was the scene of what could have been a 60’s heist film straight out of Hollywood. But less like Cary Grant and more like Martin and Lewis. The result: $500 million worth of irreplaceable art missing.

Here’s how it happened. According to the museum’s website, in the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers told museum security they were responding to a call. The guard on duty broke protocol by letting them in through the security door. Cue Dean Martin acting legit as Jerry Lewis pratfalls with his police hat askew. Once the collector cops got in, they asked the guard to come out from behind his desk, saying they recognized him as a fugitive. This drew the guard away from the only alarm button. The “cops” handcuffed him and the other guard, duct taping them both to pipes in the basement. One can use one’s imagination to piece together the comedy routine that went down between the two guards after the thieves left. Probably some real “Who’s on first” quality stuff.

Once the clever conspirators were free to roam, the toured the Dutch room on the second floor. They admired a few works by Rembrant (Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633) and a Self Portrait (1634), an etching on paper. And when I say admired, I mean stole. They also “admired” Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660)  and a few other trinkets. Like Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880) and some stuff from the Shang Dynasty. With 13 works stolen, it’s considered one of the biggest art heists ever. Apparently these guys really love art.

As the next security shift came in, no doubt hilarity ensued. The guards were discovered in the basement and the aforementioned artwork was never found. That was 27 years ago.


Right after it happened, the museum offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the rescue of the works and capture of the perps. But even then, the work’s estimated worth was up to $20 million. Who says crime doesn’t pay?


Later the reward was increased to $5 million. But according to the New York Times,  on May 23, the museum said they would double the reward to $10 million. The museum’s security director, Anthony Amore, said they had found the guys who took the ill gotten booty, but they almost certainly did not have it anymore. This reward goes out in the hopes some nefarious collector will feel the pangs of guilt (and of $10 million) and come forward. Sure, that could happen.

PotatoMike knows there are many collectors reading this. Is it you? Hey, we love art too. We’re not here to judge.