Gardner Museum Boston $600 Million Heist Case – New Leads

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The 1990 heist of more than half a billion US dollars worth of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains the biggest heist in history.  It also remains unsolved.  This week, a known mobster from Connecticut revealed he may have information regarding the case that could potentially return the stolen works to their rightful place.

On 18 March 1990, two men gained entry to the museum disguised as Boston police officers.  The two security guards on duty were restrained in the basement while the thieves stole thirteen works of art.  According to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website, “The stolen works include: Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633) and a Self Portrait (1634), an etching on paper; Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660); and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk (1638); and a Chinese vase or Ku, all taken from the Dutch Room on the second floor. Also stolen from the second floor were five works on paper by the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas and a finial from the top of a pole support for a Napoleonic silk flag, both from the Short Gallery. Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880) was taken from the Blue Room on the first floor.”  For the past twenty-two years the museum’s Director of Security has been working with the FBI and US Attorney’s Office to attempt to retrieve the stolen works.

From time to time small leads pop up in the case, restoring hope that the works are not lost forever.  Due to the high profile of the case, the works cannot be sold at auction without attracting attention and their fate remains unknown.  Robert Gentile, a 76-year-old mobster from Connecticut, pleaded guilty in a case involving weapons and prescription drugs.  Although the Isabella Stewart Gardner theft was not overtly referenced, it is believed that Gentile is acquainted with those responsible.  Gentile’s lawyer , A. Ryan McGuigan, has stated that Gentile does not know any of the details regarding the missing works.  Though this does not seem to be a significant lead in the case, McGuigan noted that, “Unfortunately for the art world, [Gentile] is the last, best hope of retrieving the paintings.  And now he’s paying the price for not knowing.”

Gentile first gained attention in the art heist case in March 2012 when the FBI indicated that he may have had involvement with the stolen works.  McGuigan quickly asserted the absurdity of the claims citing Gentile’s complete lack of art knowledge in that he “couldn’t tell a Rembrandt from an Elvis painting.”  Is Gentile a criminal mastermind with the insight to potentially solve the decades old case?  Or is he really just a responsible for illegal possession of weapons and drugs?  Gentile’s sentencing will be decided in early February and is likely to result in 46-57 months in prison, and it is uncertain whether any further progress will be made in the search for the stolen artworks.

Image: Johannes Vermeer, “The Concert”, ca. 1664.