It’s coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Gardner Museum heist and a new book is coming out. But one reporter who had been on the trail of the lost paintings recalls his close brush with what might have been the missing Rembrandt (or might not.)
The hallway in the Brooklyn warehouse was dark, the space cramped. But soon there was a flashlight beam, and I was staring at one of the most sought-after stolen masterpieces in the world: Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
Or was I?
My tour guide that night in August 1997 was a rogue antiques dealer who had been under surveillance by the F.B.I. for asserting he could secure return of the painting — for a $5 million reward. I was a reporter at The Boston Herald, consumed like many people before me and since with finding the “Storm,” a seascape with Jesus and the Apostles, and 12 other works, including a Vermeer and a Manet, stolen in March 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a cherished institution here.
The theft was big news then and remains so today as it nears its 25th anniversary. The stolen works are valued at $500 million, making the robbery the largest art theft in American history.
Which explains why I found myself in Brooklyn, 200 miles from the scene of the crime, tracking yet another lead. My guide had phoned me suggesting he knew something of the robbery, and he had some street credibility because he was allied with a known two-time Rembrandt thief. He took me into a storage locker and flashed his light on the painting, specifically at the master’s signature, on the bottom right of the work, where it should have been, and abruptly ushered me out.
The entire visit had taken all of two minutes.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Heist: 25 Years of Theories (NYTimes.com)