See Stolen Gardner Museum Artworks Online, Thanks to Google Art Project

Inside the Dutch Room, via Google Art Project. Screenshot by Cait Munro.

It’s a story that has become as familiar as the plot of any blockbuster film. On the evening of March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with 13 works of art.

They gained entry to the museum by claiming they were officers responding to a call. Once inside, they handcuffed both security guards and put them downstairs in the basement, then secured them to pipes with their hands and feet bound. The next day, the morning guard arrived to find that the museum had been robbed. The value of the trove of stolen is estimated  between $300 million–$500 million.

As the 25th anniversary of the biggest unsolved art heist approaches, the Gardner Museum has found a way to properly memorialize the stolen pieces.

Using Google Art Project (see The World’s Best Museums are Coming to Your Smartphone, and A Tumblr Chronicles Google Art Project Copyright Fails), anyone can take a “virtual tour” of the museum, view vintage photographs of its interior before the heist, and learn about the history and provenance of the thirteen missing works, which include Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660), and Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880). Due to a mandate from founder Isabella Stewart Gardner herself that the collection never be changed and no new works added, only empty frames hang where the stolen artworks once were.

Despite the crime’s cold case status, the museum is still offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the works in good condition. Officials are using the anniversary as an opportunity to drum up renewed interest in solving the heist.

The museum has recently made headlines as director Anne Hawley, who started on the job just a few months before the theft, has tendered her resignation (see Hate Your Job? Gardner Museum Seeks Director). The institution also struggled throughout the winter with leaky roofing, which endangered several artworks (The Gardner Museum’s Roofs Are Leaky, Jeopardizing Art).


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