By Nancy Clark

Without question, the tour of Boston’s Gardner Museum is as thrilling as a detective mystery. Thirteen tell-tale frames on the walls of the enormous private-home-turned-art-museum are all that remains of art by the great masters—a Vermeer, three Rembrandts (including his only seascape), five Degas drawings, and a Manet. A heist that has never been solved.

John Singer Sargent’s oil on canvas El Jalco (1882) occupies an entire wall in the Gardner Museum on the main level.

Thomas E. Marr’s gelatin silver print (1902) depicts the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a tribute to the botanic arts.America’s first private art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner bought her little plot of land on the undeveloped Fenway at the outskirts of Boston after her husband’s death in 1898. Here, she would build Fenway Court to display the world’s greatest art collection in the country. She occupied the topmost floor until her death, donating the building as a museum in perpetuity…with the caveat that all of the art remain on the walls in exactly the location she had personally hung it.

The tale of the theft is curiously uncomplicated. Two thieves, disguised as Boston cops, demanded access to the museum late on St. Patrick’s Day 1990. Unwittingly, the staff guards allowed them to enter and were immediately bound and tied in the basement. It took only 81 minutes for the intruders to strip the precious art from the walls, leaving the gutted frames as a mocking reminder.

Four years later, a tipster claimed to know the whereabouts of the estimated $500 Million art. Then the lead went cold, never to be heard of again.

Planning a trip to Boston, be sure to see the film Stolen ( and read the press

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is on the web at or call 617.566.1401.

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