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Art theft

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19 ago. 2015

Isabella Gardner

New video shows possible dry run for Gardner Museum art heist

It has been twenty five years since the biggest art theft in history was pulled off at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office released a newly discovered video taken the night before the heist, and is asking the public to help identify one of the two individuals captured in the footage. 

The six-minute video,  shows an unidentified man enter the museum at 12:49 a.m. on March 17, 1990. At almost exactly the same time on March 18, thieves dressed as Boston Police officers entered the same door, handcuffed two museum guards, and left with 13 pieces of art now valued at over $500 million, according to law enforcement officials. The museum has since offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the return of the stolen art. 

The empty frame from which thieves cut Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee remains on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Some of the artworks stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990 were The Storm on the sea of Galilee by Rembrandt and The Concert painted by Vermeer. 

Who was Isabella Gardner?

Over three decades, Isabella Stewart Gardner traveled the world and worked with important art patrons and advisors Bernard Berenson and Okakura Kakuzo to amass a remarkable collection of master and decorative arts. In 1903, she completed the construction of Fenway Court in Boston to house her collection and provide a vital place for Americans to access and enjoy important works of art. Isabella Gardner installed her collection of works in a way to evoke intimate responses to the art, mixing paintings, furniture, textiles, and objects from different cultures and periods among well-known European paintings and sculpture.

She spent a year carefully installing her collection according to her personal aesthetic. The eclectic gallery installations from different periods and cultures combine to create a rich, complex and unique narrative.  The museum was opened in 1903 with a grand opening celebration featuring a performance by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a menu that included champagne and doughnuts.

Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's preeminent collection contains more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, rare books and decorative arts. The galleries house works by some of the most recognized artists in the world, including Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Manet, Degas, Whistler and Sargent. The spirit of the architecture, the personal character of the arrangements and the artistic display of the enchanting courtyard in full bloom all create an atmosphere that distinguishes the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as an intimate and culturally-rich treasure.

Isabella Stewart Gardner amassed the bulk of her collection in a remarkably short period of time. Like many wealthy Americans, the Gardners bought paintings and objects to decorate their home. In the 1880s, Isabella Stewart Gardner attended lectures on art history and readings of Dante given by Charles Eliot Norton at Harvard College. This sparked a passion for Dante, and Isabella Gardner began to buy rare editions by the writer. She became a serious collector of Dutch and Italian pictures in the 1890s. Beginning in 1894, Bernard Berenson, then a young art historian, started to recommend Italian paintings for acquisition. He was just as new at this as Gardner was, but within two years he had guided her towards a collection that included Botticelli's Lucretia, Titian's Europa, Vermeer's The Concert, and Rembrandt's Self-Portrait. Berenson acted as a conduit for paintings that Colnaghi, a London dealer, had for sale; however, Isabella Gardner made her own decisions about what to buy. In 1896, Berenson facilitated the purchase of Titian's Europa, still heralded as the "most important work of art in Boston," by Boston-area museum directors (The Boston Globe, July 27, 2002).

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice, 1894

Isabella Stewart Gardner disliked the cold, mausoleum-like spaces of most American museums of the period. As a result, she designed Fenway Court around a central courtyard filled with flowers. Light enters the galleries from the courtyard and from exterior windows, creating an atmospheric setting for works of art. Love of art, not knowledge about the history of art, was her aim. Her friends noted that the entire Museum was a work of art in itself. Individual objects became part of a rich, complex and intensely personal setting.
The Museum also provides personal glimpses into the sensibilities and personality of Isabella Stewart Gardner, poignant testaments to her personal tragedies and triumphs. The loss of her only child at the age of two is suggested in the Spanish Chapel, opposite John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo (1882), a painting that celebrates the excitement of life. Titian's Europa (1561-1562) hangs above a piece of pale green silk, which had been cut from one of Isabella Stewart Gardner's gowns designed by Charles Frederic Worth. Throughout the collection, similar stories, intimate portrayals, and discoveries abound.
Ten portraits of Isabella Stewart Gardner herself are interspersed throughout the collection, including John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner(1888), Anders Zorn's Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice (1894), and James McNeill Whistler's The Little Note in Yellow and Gold (1886). The sense of vitality and artistic flair that she found in Venice - and by which she lived her life - is eloquently captured in Zorn's Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice, 1894. Painted in the Palazzo Barbaro, the portrait captures the moment when Isabella Stewart Gardner, watching fireworks from a balcony, stood in the doorway, arms outstretched and invited her guests to join her to watch the display. Today, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's historic collection remains as Gardner created it, a collection of intimate effect and ongoing inspiration for visual, musical and horticultural innovation and scholarly thinking.