The Gardner Heist: the True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser

(Photo from Goodreads)

(Photo from Goodreads)

  • Publisher: Smithsonian
  • Pub date: February 24, 2009
  • Format: Hardcover (library copy) 
  • Genre: Non-fiction, art, true crime

Quick Summary: On March 18, 1990 two men dressed as police officers walked into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole several valuable masterpieces. Missing pieces include a Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and a Manet. Over two decades later the masterpieces are still missing. In The Gardner Heist, Boser recounts the events of that night and the many fruitless leads and criminal suspect interviews that followed. Art detective Harold Smith worked on the Gardner case for years and Boser inherited his notes and files after the detective’s death. Boser dives into the art underworld following any lead he can find. He comes across several characters in the Boston mob scene and  eventually uncovers the identities of the two thieves. Yet the locations of the stolen masterpieces are still unknown and art lovers around the world hold hope that they will someday be returned to their empty frames.

Thoughts before reading: I was really in the mood for some art history reading and I love art thefts! I find these true art crimes fascinating. 

General thoughts: My inner art nerd was very satisfied. I loved reading about the history of Isabella Gardner and why she built the museum. The mystery of who stole the art and why is intriguing even if it does turn out that it was probably mobsters looking for some big cash. As I got deeper into the book, I could understand why the author got so obsessed with the recovery of the art. It’s so haunting to think about those empty frames still hanging in the museum, just waiting. The fact that the stolen masterpieces are likely damaged from being cut from their frames and not stored properly makes the crime even more of a stab to the heart for art lovers. I know the searchers won’t stop searching; I just hope the wait won’t last much longer. 

Thoughts after reading: *cries for the missing art that we may not ever see again* Yet I find the true events fascinating and the mystery of the location of the masterpieces addicting. 

My rating: 4 stars

Do I recommend it? Yes, for fans of art and true crime this is a great read. I also recommend The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick if you want to read about an art theft with a happier ending.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the book, which gives a peek into the mind of an art thief.

“There’s nothing like the rush of being in a museum at two in the morning, knowing that you have run of the place. It was like being in Aladdin’s cave, a kid in the candy store.”



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