Art Thefts and Museums

Over twenty-five years ago, two men dressed as Boston police out smarted the security guard on duty at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. They convinced him to let them inside the building (the first no-no) then leave his post (second no-no) where he had access to the only alarm (museum’s no-no and incredible dereliction) then call the only other guard on duty (third no-no for guard, second for museum) and then they got tied up with things. Literally. In the basement.

The thieves made off with 13 nearly priceless works of art. With no backup security (museum’s third no-no) the crooks had ample time to get away. The guards weren’t discovered until museum employees reported for work the next day. Hindsight tells us what’s wrong with this picture, and what a picture it is.

As I write this it is March 2017 and we have none of the art returned to the museum. It is now sadder and wiser, as are other museums. But the truth is that the art thefts continue, as do the threats of theft. The thefts aren’t transpiring solely at the museums. Thieves make off with work from galleries, exhibitions and private collections. The works include paintings, sculpture, porcelain objets d’art, jewelry, items of historical value and so forth.

All this combined effort at elaborate thefts and concealment help point out why tracking down Nazi looted art is still so difficult. Clever thieves are interested in payment not producing goods to return to rightful owners. As I have written before, art theft is the fourth most lucrative money making scheme worldwide. Unfortunately, we frequently make it easy for criminals to gain access to artworks and then fail to catch them later.

Here are photos of the items stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum. All these are in a document on their website. The photos are property of the museum.

Enjoy looking at the photos. And if you should run across one of these precious items…call the FBI Art Squad. They will be delighted to hear from you.