A Priceless Anniversary

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the largest art theft in history. What gift does one send for that occasion? An empty frame?

In 1990 two men disguised as police officers broke into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied up the guards and made off with 13 pieces worth half a billion dollars. (Peanuts for today's Wall Street thieves, but still a lot of money in the art world.) Among those looted masterpieces were a Vermeer (one of only 34 in existence), three Rembrandts (including his only seascape) and five Degas.

A journalist named Ulrich Boser published an exciting book about the case last month called "The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft."

(Back in 1988, Boston novelist Jane Langton set one of her Homer Kelly murder mysteries -- "Murder at the Gardner" -- in the museum.)

On Sunday, the Boston Herald released updated composite sketches of the two thieves drawn by a medical illustrator. If they look familiar, send tips to the Gardner Museum security chief at theft@isgm.org. You could partake of the $5 million reward.

I used to work down the street from the Gardner, a replica of a 15th-century Venetian palace. The collection wasn't my cup o' tea -- lots of dark Christian icons -- but I frequently enjoyed lunch in their tiny cafe, and the open courtyard is one of the most beautiful spots in the city. The Boston heiress who built it stipulated in her will that nothing about the collection should ever be changed, so the empty frames are still hanging there on the walls.

By Ron Charles |  March 18, 2009; 5:35 AM ET Nonfiction , Ron Charles
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I've written much on the topic of art crime, and have always followed the Gardner theft closely. If you're interested in learning more about the field of art theft or even interested in reading an interview with author Ulrich Boser, check out my blog www.arttheftcentral.blogspot.com .

Posted by: mdurney86 | March 18, 2009 1:04 PM

I hope Mr. Charles posts a blog item regarding The New Yorker/Twitter incident: http://www.observer.com/2009/media/tweet-town-didja-retweet-one-about-ithe-new-yorkeri-going-biweekly

Posted by: subwayguy | March 24, 2009 8:33 AM

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