Big Storm in the World of Art

On an early morning, 1:24 am, after Saint Patrick Day in 1990, two men dressed up as police officers rang the bell at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Museum in Boston claiming “some disturbance on the grounds” and were let in by the guards who finished “handcuffed and locked in the cellar”. Thirteen art masterpieces were stolen from the museum that night, and today after 28 years none of them has been recovered. Among these paintings were Edgar Degas’ La sortie de Pesage, Cortege aux Environs de Florence, Program for an artistic, Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878-1880), Johannes Vermeer’s The concert (1658-1660), and Rembrandt Van Rijn’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A lady and a gentelmen in black.

Storm on the Sea of Galilee was the only seascape Rembrandt Van Rijn painted and represented the miracle done by Jesus on the Sea of Galilee as described in chapter four in the Gospel of Mark from the New Testament. The action in the painting was taking place on a boat fluyt style which the painter has known very well, by seeing it on the port of Amsterdam. The artist put on the canvas a scene of a real fight for survival of the people on the boat by using lighting effects and the orientation of the craft and makingyou feel the dramatic power of the waves by the strokes of color applied. In 1898, this masterpiece was bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) from the London’s collection of Colnaghi & Wertheimer, with the help of Bernard Berenson, and the masterpiece has became part of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, Massachusetts, SUA) property until the morning of March 18th 1990, when it has been stolen. This art heist was considered as the biggest art theft in the history of museums in SUA.

Johannes Vermeer’s The concert (1658-1660) has been valued at 130 million pounds, and became the most valuable masterpiece ever stolen. The reward for any tip to find the artworks was raised from $1million to $5 million in 1997. But after a fake link from a tipster named William P. Youngworth III, the stolen art couldn’t be recovered. Today, on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are kept the empty frames of the stolen artworks.

FBI announced that the heist has beeing done by an organized criminal gang and they have been able to identify few suspects. In 2013, they declared that regrettably the authors of the theft had died. In 2017, the Museum Administration Board rasied the reward to $10 million to find the masterpieces. The American FBI had suspected for years a mobster named Robert Gentile having ties to the people who have comitted the crime. In 2012, Gentile has been found guilty for some other fellonies in a court in Hartford Connecticut. His layer said that: ”Unfortunatelly for the art world, he is the last, best hope of retriving the paintings”. He recognized that his client didn’t take the artwork, but he knew some people who were suspected by the policeas being involved in the art heist.

On February 2018, The Federal Court of Hartfort, Connecticut, convicted Robert Gentile (81 years old, from Manchester), to eleven months in a federal prison. But he didn’t talk too much. In March 2018, after twenty eight years from the date of the heist, a high-tech companyfrom Boston – Cuseum–brought to the museum’s public attention the two stolen masterpieces by Rembrandt Van Rijn’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) and A lady and a gentelmen in black (1633).

Because not a lot of visitors had information about the art heist from 1990, and they didn’t know why the stolen artwork frames were still empty on the walls of the museum, the high-tech company’s program „Hacking the Heist” offered the public the possibility to find out about the history of the museum and they could see the stolen masterpieces on their phone or tablet by aiming with their phones the empty frames on the walls. The owner of the company Cuseum, Brendan Ciecko, declared: ”Hacking the Heist ismind-bending and mind-boggling. You’re literally looking through your screen and seeing things that aren’t there… It’s not a video game – it’s culture, it’s art, something that has a deeper meaning.” In the future, the creators of the program have the intention to put back on the frames the other stolen artworks, signed by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Johannes Vermeer (The Concert).

Bibliography

  • Simon Houpt, Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft, Sterling Pub., 2006
  • bostonherald.com, Man Linked to Gardner Museum Art Heist faces Sentencing in Weapons Case, accessed on 06.07.2018.
  • news.artnet.com, Stolen Gardner Paintings Augmented Reality, accessed in 05.06.2018.
  • telegraph.co.uk, The aging mobster and the mystery of the missing masterpieces, accessed in 09.14.2018.
  • artfixdaily.com, Mobster possibly linked to gardner Museum Heist, accessed in 09.14.2018.

Rembrandt van Rijn           

Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)

Oil on canvas, 160 x 128 cm

Stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

The masterpiece of Rembrandt van Rijn was put back on her frame by the program „Hacking the Heist”, created by Cuseum. © Cuseum

Johannes Vermeer

The Concert (1663), oil on canvas

Stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.

Article authors: Rozalia Mos & Silvia Suciu

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