News / USA

Stealing Rembrandt Doesn't Always Pay

Book chronicles notorious art heists

Rembrandt's 'St. Bartholomew,' stolen from the Worcester Art Museum in 1972, was recovered in the barn of a pig farm.
Rembrandt's 'St. Bartholomew,' stolen from the Worcester Art Museum in 1972, was recovered in the barn of a pig farm.
Faiza Elmasry

A drawing by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, valued at $250,000, was stolen from a hotel in Southern California this month. It was quickly recovered.

But the whereabouts of three Rembrandts stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum more than 20 years ago, in the largest art heist in American history, remains a mystery.

Now, a security expert and an investigative reporter have teamed up to chronicle the history of Rembrandt heists in a new book, called "Stealing Rembrandts, The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists," and are optimistic the long-time mystery will be solved.

High-end heists

St. Patricks Day in 1990 was festive at first but, late at night, two men dressed as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Using handcuffs and duct tape to subdue the guards, they made off with 13 artworks, including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer and a Manet. The booty was worth several hundred million dollars.

This 1630 self-portrait of Rembrandt, stolen in Stockholm in 2000, was later recovered in Copenhagen.
This 1630 self-portrait of Rembrandt, stolen in Stockholm in 2000, was later recovered in Copenhagen.

About 15 years later, with the works still missing, Anthony Amore, a former Homeland Security official, was tapped to head security at the museum. To solve the crime, he set out to learn about Rembrandt thefts over the last 100 years.

“The first step was to research old police records, talk to federal agencies, look at old archived newspaper articles," says Amore. "Then, reach international organizations, Interpol and the rest. And then, through those, especially for older thefts that happened decades ago, I found that art thieves were willing to speak about what they had done.”

Amore joined forces with Tom Mashberg, an investigative reporter. Together, they made interesting discoveries about art thieves in general.

“These guys were involved in all kinds of theft," says Amore. "They were also familiar with robbing things like banks or pharmacies, armored car robberies, home invasions."

“And we were really shocked to discover that there had been 81 robberies involving Rembrandts in the last 100 years,” Mashberg adds.

Most stolen artists of all time

Rembrandt is one of the most stolen artists of all time, second only to Picasso. Mashberg says the fame of the Dutch master makes his work a target.

“He left behind at least 1,000 works in the U.S., Europe, Canada and other parts of the world. His name is so familiar even to the most common criminal.”

Rembrandt's 'Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn' has been stolen four times from the Dulwich Gallery in London.
Rembrandt's 'Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn' has been stolen four times from the Dulwich Gallery in London.

The accessibility of museum art, Mashberg says, is another factor.  

“When you go into a museum, you don’t want to see armed guards everywhere. You don’t want art to be behind Plexiglas and you don’t want to hear alarms go off every time you get within a couple of feet to a famous painting."

Art thefts are frequent, and some end badly.   

“One of the paintings by Rembrandt, a portrait of his wife, was actually burned by the criminals and destroyed forever because they were afraid they would be caught and put in prison,” Mashberg says.

Why stealing art doesn't pay

However, in 80 percent of the cases, the work turns up unharmed.

And it's not uncommon for art thieves to make stupid decisions. In the 1972 robbery at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, a gang of thieves stole Rembrandt’s "St. Bartholomew," as well as works by Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin.

“It was amazing for me to learn that, not only did the thieves start boasting about it right away which led to arrests," Amore says, "but that the mastermind of the crime ultimately hid the Rembrandt painting in a barn, on a pig farm about 40 minutes from his home. So, it really struck me to think that this beautiful painting was in such a profane place."

Unlike diamonds or gold, valuable paintings have little street value. They are instantly recognizable and cannot be reintroduced into the marketplace without attracting attention, which makes it difficult for criminals to sell them.

“We have several cases in the book where the thieves just gave up and left the paintings off in a public place, like a train station or a park, and then called the police and said ‘Why don’t you just go pick it up,'" Mashberg says. "'It’s too much trouble.’"

But that hasn't worked for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  According to reports, the FBI recently re-tested DNA from the crime scene to develop new leads.

Mashberg and Amore remain optimistic that the Rembrandts stolen more than 20 years ago will be recovered. Although they won't divulge details about the case, they say, history shows stealing art doesn’t pay.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid