As the bookcase swung open it revealed a compact,, neat little room, barely seven feet deep and lined with plush material. I half expected a spider web covered stone staircase with torches lit along the walls! Against the back of the room was a table with a cloth over it. As I approached the table I could hear my heart hammering away and the blood pumping through my ears. I slid the cloth off and there they were. On one, the tumultuous ocean, the crashing waves and wind tossed boat, and the other, a quiet Dutch sitting room with a black and white checkered floor and three figures playing music. Two of the missing paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum! When you are in the presence of genius it is palpable. It grabs your soul and punches you in your lungs. Rembrandt and Vermeer most certainly did that to me.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of the most beautiful museums in the world, as far as I know. It was built in the style of a 15th century Venetian palace, with a stunning five story courtyard in the middle complete with gardens and skylights. The building is a work of art itself, and houses the incredible private collection of one woman (Isabella Stewart Gardner if you hadn’t already guessed). Opened in 1903, the museum has works of Titian, Rembrandt, Manet, Sargent, and Degas among others. Gardner was known for her wealth and incredible taste in art. She was also a free spirit, causing a stir at the stuffy, formal Boston Symphony Hall in 1912 (the year Fenway Park was built) when she showed up wearing a headband emblazoned with “Oh you Red Sox!” Eat your heart out Jim McMahon. On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers broke into the museum, tied up the security guards, and stole numerous works, the two most valuable being Rembrandt’s The Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Vermeer’s The Concert (one of only thirty or so Vermeer paintings left in existence). No fancy security system? Yeah, I can’t believe they didn’t have one either, but they didn’t. It remains one of the most famous unsolved art heists in history. Until now, that is. Now I was staring at the incredible works that people have been searching for relentlessly these past nineteen years.
Everything started clicking like a bad 80’s movie montage in my head. The fascination with The Thomas Crown Affair, the rare Degas sketches locked in the library and only shown to certain guests, the cop from a couple weeks ago, the storage unit in New Hampshire, the uber secretive third floor…..
My head was reeling. The paintings were under a plexiglass shield and hadn’t been reframed yet. In her will, Gardner demanded that no paintings be added or moved in the museum, so everything is exactly as she wanted it for eternity. However, it means that there are two ghostly, empty frames that the Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings were cut out of. Here I was, staring at the missing pieces that would make the museum whole again.
What the hell should I do? Who should I call? Was Mr. Hobfield going to sell the paintings? Should I just grab them now? Why was the alarm off tonight when I got to the house? All these thought were arguing with each other, blocking out my other senses. That’s when the back of my head exploded and everything went black