What once was lost now is … found?

I wrote earlier about the massive art theft from the Isabella Gardener museum in 1990. It is a fabled art heist that saw art thieves dressed as police steal 13 works of art valued at half a billion dollars from the museum in Boston. Of them, three were Rembrandts: two paintings and an engraving.

No one has seen the woks of art since. Or rather, someone, or someones, certainly have. But whoever they are, they haven’t saw fit to identify themselves. And as for the rest of us? We’ve had to content ourselves with pictures in art books and images found on a Google image search. Like the ones I’ve posted here.

That might change soon

According to a recent story in the Daily Beast, the true story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art theft may be ready to unravel.

A Lady and Gentleman in Black – Rembrandt van Rijn

Apparently, people who track lost art have speculated for a while that Boston’s own bad boy, Whitey Bulger, may have had something to do with the heist. If by “something,” you pretty much mean “everything.” And there maybe something to that, because Bulger himself said as much.

Shortly before his murder in prison in 2018, Bulger was negotiating to offer information about the theft in exchange for transfer to a safer incarceration site. Perhaps he should have been careful what he wished for, because just one day after he was transferred to a different prison in West Virginia, on Oct. 31, 2018, the 89-year-old man was murdered. He’d been beat to death by other incarcerated men who had shivs and hid padlocks inside socks.

Bulger, a Boston-area Irish mafioso, had known ties to the Irish Republican Army, a real force back in 1990 when the heist took place. The theory goes that when Bulger’s shipment of arms to the IRA was intercepted, he arranged for the art heist to get the militia fungible goods to fund their campaign. Once the art was in IRA hands, it likely would have been sold off via underground means to unscrupulous buyers.

An offer they can refuse

Or was it? Because according to one legendary art hunter, the IRA may be willing now to give the art back — on the condition they are given the $10 million reward money and no questions asked.

The stolen selfie – Rembrandt van Rijn

“The IRA is not a trustworthy organization,” Dutch art detective Arthur Brand told The Daily Beast. “But the organization is dying and they need to liquidate now more than ever.”

Brand is a known name in the art world. He has recovered Picassos and returned art the nazis looted during Word War II. Like Indiana Jones, he believes art belongs in a museum — or at the very least, with its rightful owner. He’s willing to do it oAnce again

But the Isabella Gardner museum isn’t exactly excited at the idea:

(Isabella Gardner Chief of Security Anthony) Amore, who has dedicated his career to the return of the Isabella Gardner art, says he doesn’t do deals with thieves, even if it might mean the safe return of the treasures. “Art hunters like Arthur Brand often negotiate with the smugglers and thieves, but is that something you can condone?” he asks. “Anybody that can help us get our art back and acts ethically to do so is welcome, but the idea of paying thieves art is unethical.” (Daily Beast)

Gone and lost forever?

Of course, all this means nothing if the Bolger/IRA theory is bunk. And Amore, for one, thinks it is.

Rembrandt’s only known seascape

Many who studied the heist believe the art never left the US in the first place. Others believe they were simply stolen by greedy opportunists looking to make a quick fortune on the global black market.

Until someone decides to break the silence, the rest of us can only guess.

One thought on “What once was lost now is … found?

  1. I listened to a podcast about the heist called “Last Seen” and it barely touched on the Bulger theory, though they did have one episode devoted to general Boston “criminal elements”. It’s a fascinating case, one I’m surprised I’d not heard of long before now!


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