Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visit History: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is a tiny footnote in the museum world, with a measly 2,500 pieces, but this place is notable as the location for the largest private property theft in history. Opened by the cuckoo Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1903, the museum was established to hold her personal collection of art she had accumulated throughout her rich trust-fund baby life.

She designed her museum to resemble a 15th century Venetian palace and was involved in every aspect of construction. When completed, she spent a year installing her collection to her satisfaction, never to be altered, removed or sent out on loan. And if her vision was ever compromised posthumously, her will states that the collection is to be sold immediately with the funds donated to Harvard.

This museum is the location of the greatest art heist in history. Thieves stormed the museum the morning after St. Patrick's day in 1990 and stole 13 works of art worth approximately 300 million dollars today. The two disguised thieves deceived a security guard to enter and then bound him until he was discovered later in the morning. The thieves cut out the paintings from frames that were cemented to the walls. The hung frames still remain, awaiting the return of the paintings still 22 years later.

To rob any place in Boston, I think the wee hours of the morning after St. Patrick's Day would be prime time. The case is still open and leads are constantly investigated by the museum and the FBI. There is a 5 million dollar reward for any information leading to the recovery.

The museum is beautiful, definitely resembling a European palace. There is no signage throughout the museum, which takes away from the museum feel, which I enjoyed. There are individual plastic cards that you need to seek out in each room for any information regarding the art.

I was intrigued seeing the empty frames hanging, reminiscent of the heist from that exact location.  Although, within the museum you won't find any information about the heist. They hide the past, yet still keep the frames hung because of Gardner's decree to not touch anything. If anything, go for the eccentricities, not the art.

Some of the stolen works, including Rembrandt's only known seascape:

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