Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Boston, Massachusetts | C.1903

Photo Credit: Kevin Caltagirone

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the realized dream of John L. Gardner and his wife, Isabella. They loved art and strove to create a place where works could be permanently exhibited “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.” But in 81 minutes, a theft of artwork left a hole, literally, in the collection that remains unresolved to this day.

On March 18, 1990, two thieves posing as policemen tricked an unassuming guard on duty into letting them into the museum. Once inside, the thieves handcuffed and tied up the guard in the Museum’s basement and proceeded to steal 13 works from the Museum’s Dutch Room. By 2:45AM, after two trips to their getaway van, the thieves got away with the single largest property theft in the world.

Thirteen works were stolen, including a Napoleonic finial, an eagle ornament that would sit atop a flag pole. The finial alone has one of the largest rewards of any single stolen museum piece at $100,000. The Museum is offering a $10 million reward for the entire missing collection so long as it is returned in good condition.

This ongoing investigation “remains a top priority” according to a Museum web page dedicated to information about the theft. In the Dutch room, frames where the artwork once hung is all that remains as a constant reminder of these missing pieces in the collection.

While the investigation continues, the Gardner Museum remains a fixture in the Fenway community. In keeping with Gardner’s enthusiasm for the Boston Red Sox baseball team, visitors wearing Red Sox paraphernalia receive discounted admission, and visitors named Isabella enter free.

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