THE GARDNER ART HEIST Why we care about musty old canvas?



“Why would robbers steal that?” the burley cop asked soon after the Rembrandt, Vermeer and Degas theft was discovered at the Isabella Gardner Museum.

Might be the $200 million appraisal price. People have been killed for less. Then again it’s hard for thieves to sell stolen art.

The Gardner heist occurred 30 years ago and is now in the hands of the police, insurance adjusters and museum trustees. For us the public, the loss remains one of the best crime stories from the world of art, but as decades pass, witnesses die leads dry up, the story is becoming forgotten.

The missing canvases are now little more than an occasional newspaper blurb. It’s sad because the world is diminished by the loss of cultural treasures. We will no longer stand before these Rembrandts, Vermeer, and Degases to be invited into the artist’s imaginations’.

In the case of Vermeer’s “Concert”, we can’t share a transcendent moment in a hushed, sunlit music chamber at a moment in time following the Dutch revolt from Spain when the city of Delft was engulfed in violence. That artist had power over us.

Now it’s gone. Do cops, journalists and insurance guys grasp the magnitude of the loss? Beyond the appraisals do we care?

An answer was suggested by the “Philosopher’s Mail” blog.

Newspapers give us no end of facts from around the world. What they don’t give us is a reason to care. Compassion fatigue set in as late breaking stories compete for our attention.

The wreck of the French frigate Medusa, occurred in 1816 off the coast of Africa. The loss of 133 lives was a catastrophe, but over time the sinking has become a regrettable accident. Now it is only one incident among a tedious list of regrettable incidents. The Medusa no longer registers with us. The incident would be forgotten but for artist Theodore Gericault. He was a French painter who immortalized the event with his well known depiction of the few survivors. The Raft of the Medusa hangs on the wall of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The survivors shall remain etched in our lives forever as we can see them struggle to signal the almost invisible schooner on the horizon.


To lose an art treasure is to lose a reason to care about a piece of eternity. Appraisals and insurance adjustments can’t make us whole. The loss of the legacy from our greatest artists diminishes all  of us.

Categories: Humor

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