Progress at the Gardner Museum?

Another push was made in finding the lost paintings. I’m talking, of course, about the $500 million worth of stolen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA—you know, that famously unsolved art theft from 1990.

A little recap for those who don’t know the story (meaning you’re not from Massachusetts and/or don’t obsess over stories about art crimes): during the early morning of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers entered the security entrance of the museum, tied up the security guards, and stole 13 works of art including three Rembrandts, five Degas, Manet’s Chez Torini and Vermeer’s The Concert (I should note that while Vermeer is one of Europe’s most famous and praised painters, he only produced 34 known paintings in his lifetime, making his work particularly rare). The heist has remained unsolved even today, and has inspired numerous books (fiction and non-fiction), articles, documentaries and other films centered on the investigation. Everyone has his or her own theories on the heist at this point, and if you’re like me, your world kind of stops every time you see ‘Gardner Museum’ pop up in news headlines.

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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum leaves the empty frames of its stolen paintings in the galleries—a reminder of the 1990 theft.

Even though we haven’t actually found the paintings yet, the story resurfaces every few months when the FBI has updates. Today, The Boston Globe announced that they believe that aging mobster Robert Gentile knows the location of the paintings. The article says that while he denies it, Gentile had attempted to sell the paintings for $500,000 a piece to an undercover FBI agent, however the deal was not completed because Gentile was indicted on charges of selling a gun to a convicted felon. The Globe stated that Gentile’s connection to the paintings resurfaced during a hearing in court this week over gun charges against him.

It seems that to make this information public would mean that the FBI had a good handle on everything, but knowing how traditional reporting works, I’m wondering if the mere mention of the Gardner Heist during Gentile’s hearing in court led The Boston Globe to reopen all of their old information—kind of a ‘Hey, it’s been 26 years, but we haven’t lost hope yet!” It makes sense—the story in itself is fascinating, and there are so many people who have a personal attachment to seeing the mystery finally solved.

I, personally, still think that Boston’s Whitey Bulger was somehow involved. The mystery seemed to have stalled for years until Bulger was captured in 2011 after disappearing 16 years before (It’s at this moment that I will openly admit my obsession to Boston crime stories). Think about it though—Bulger was the biggest, most feared mobster in Boston. Then he disappears in 1995—five years after the Gardener Heist! This is all speculation, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Bulger were connected in some way. Maybe he wasn’t the mastermind behind the theft, but I’m sure he knew who was, and when he was finally captured, he could easily offer up that information in a deal in court. Drop a few charges in exchange for the names of those currently in possession of the artwork.

Really what this all comes down to is my hope to one day see those paintings. In 1990, I had no idea who Vermeer or Rembrandt were. But years of studying and gawking at these masters’ work, along with my dedication to reading every bit of literature surrounding the theft, has only made me desperate to see an end to this story—I would love nothing more than to learn where these paintings have hid for the last 26 years, and to see them safely returned to the empty frames that still haunt the Gardner Museum’s galleries.

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