history 101

history 101: the greatest art heist in history

History 101 is an original, regular feature here at The Pretty Good Gatsby that combines my two passions: history and reading. Each post I’ll discuss a historical figure or event and then pair it with a book. Interested in previous History 101 posts? Check out its page!

In this edition of History 101 I want to discuss art thefts. Not just any particular art theft either, but the most famous – or infamous, rather. In the middle of the night on March 18, 1990, thieves disguised as police made their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and walked out with over $500 million of art. And get this: to this day, the art has yet to be recovered and no one knows the identity of the thieves.

How the thieves pulled this off sounds like something straight out of a story. While Boston was in the midst of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations, two men in police uniforms came to the door and said they were responding to a call. The guard let them in and, along with another guard, was taken to the basement and handcuffed to the pipes.

It wasn’t until the following morning when the next shift came in that the guards were found and the theft was discovered.

To this day both the museum and the FBI are looking into the case! The museum is offering a $5 million reward and still no one has stepped forward. Recently a few men were questioned, but nothing seems to have come from it.

The stolen artwork includes paintings by Vermeer, Degas (five of his works were taken), Rembrandt, an ancient Chinese goblet, and others.

The museum has a separate page on their website detailing the theft. You can read more about it here.

Yesterday I posted a review for the fantastically wonderful book The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. The backbone of this novel is the heist. The main character, a painter specializing in Degas reproductions for a high-quality copy website, gets the chance of a lifetime when she’s given the opportunity to paint a Degas masterpiece that was stolen from the museum.

This book has a little bit of everything that’s sure to please fans of all genres. Historical fiction: check. True crime: check. Mystery: check. Romance: check. The Art Forger has it all.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant to read it at first. I know the names of the popular artists, but I couldn’t tell a Rembrandt from a Monet. The worries I had completely dissolved the moment I opened the first page. Even if you know nothing about art, this book is for you.

Want to know more? Check out my review here!

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