Notorious Massachusetts Museum Heist to Become Hollywood Movie

It was the first armed art robbery in history.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Saint Bartholomew (circa 1633). The painting was one of four canvases stolen from the Worcester Art Museum in 1972, in the world's first armed art robbery. Courtesy of the Worcester Art Museum.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was the site of one of history’s most notorious art heists, but it is the 1972 robbery of the Worcester Art Museum, another Massachusetts-area institution, that is the subject of a forthcoming Hollywood movie.

“To an art lover, possessing a Rembrandt can be likened to winning the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup all at once,” Al Monday, the mastermind behind the 1972 heist, told Anthony Amore, head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and investigative reporter Tom Mashberg, for the duo’s 2012 non-fiction book Stealing Rembrandts. 

Boston Magazine reports that Whydah Productions has acquired the rights to produce the Stealing Rembrandts, and will make a film on the section about the 1972 heist where thieves seized a pair of Paul Gauguin paintings, a Pablo Picasso work, and yes, a Rembrandt van Rijn, in broad daylight.

Monday, who thoroughly cased the joint and found daytime security to be utterly inadequate, believed the Rembrandt alone was worth $2 million. He hired two common accomplices to carry out the robbery, who shot the security guard on the way out. (The guard survived.) Afterward, Monday went to a pig farm in Rhode Island, and hid a trunk filled with the works in a hayloft.

“It was the first time that art was stolen at gunpoint in history,” Amore told artnet News in a phone conversation. “It’s very ugly, it’s almost comedic, and it’s dramatic. It has a lot of good elements for the big screen.”

Anthony Amore at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, with empty frames left behind after the museum's infamous 1990 theft. Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Anthony Amore at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, with empty frames left behind after the museum’s infamous 1990 theft. Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The Worcester robbery is one of several high-profile robberies involving the work of Rembrandt detailed in the book. Unlike the notoriously-unsolved Gardner heist, which continues to make headlines to this day, the Worcester paintings were recovered four weeks later, thanks to, as Amore says, “a couple of other violent criminals [who] were seeking a way to curry favor with a judge.”

He notes that the real story is about common criminals who see a work of art in terms of pure financial gain. “It’s so illustrative of all the ways one can dispel myths about how art theft really happens,” said Amore of the robbery. “It’s not these quote-on-quote professional art thieves; it’s not glamorous hollywood-style heist; there’s violence involved—it’s more of a snatch and grabs-type thing, not traipsing through the laser beams at night.”

“This was a cleverly plotted but poorly executed art heist,” said Casey Sherman, co-founder of Whydah Productions, in a statement. Two of Sherman’s own books, the novel The Finest Hours, based on a successful 1952 United States Coast Guard resuce mission off the New England coast, and the nonfiction book Boston Strong, about the Boston Marathon bombing, have been adapted into movies.

“I think they have a special flair for picking out good Massachusetts-type stories,” said Amore of Whydah.

The author was hesitant to speculate over a dream cast for the movie this early in the process, but when artnet News suggested known art-lover James Franco—Amore was intrigued. “Al Monday was sort of a handsome guy,” he said. “James Franco would make a very good Al Monday!”

Amore thinks that Monday, who was in his 30s at the time of the heist, is “a prime role for a big name actor.”

The newly-inked deal isn’t on IMDB yet, although a similarly-titled Danish-language film, Stealing Rembrandt, starring Nikojal Coster-Waldeau (best-known for his role as Game of Thrones‘ Jamie Lannister), was released in 2003.

As for Amore, the film marks a welcome change of pace: “It’s refreshing for me to hear someone call me about a theft other than the Gardner!”

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