Big news for Gardner obsessives:
The FBI believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole art valued at up to $500 million from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Richard DesLauriers, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Boston, says the thieves belong to a criminal organization based in New England the mid-Atlantic states. He says authorities believe the art was taken to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region in the years after the theft, and offered for sale in Philadelphia about a decade ago.
First off, kudos to the museum–and the FBI–for continuing to running down leads in this case.
But I think the lede is really buried here. From my perspective, really the biggest news is that the bureau says that someone offered the paintings for sale in Philadelphia. That suggests that the paintings are still in good condition. It also–with less evidence–suggests that the people who control the art are willing to make a deal. Keep in mind that many people have suggested over the years that the paintings have been destroyed. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.
In the end, it might take years, decades, even a century, but soon or later, I believe that these paintings will be returned. As I discuss in my book, big art theft cases often take years to solve. In the 1860s, Union Army soldiers stole North Carolina’s Bill of Rights out of the state Capitol, and the artifact remained missing for 140 years. It popped up in the art underworld a few times, until in 2003, two antiques dealers tried to peddle the work for $4 million—and the FBI picked it up in a sting.
Put more simply, when it comes to art crime, hope springs eternal for good reason.