The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft: Part Two

The frame which once held Rembrandt's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee 1633 (1)

Continuing the story of the brazen theft of 13 paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 which we started a couple of days ago. This crime has gone unsolved for over 30 years and the empty frame in the museum (above) is a constant reminder of the loss.

After cutting four paintings from their frames and also taking a tiny self portrait by Rembrandt and an ancient Chinese gu (beaker), the thieves moved into the Short Gallery.

The Short Gallery provides an informal environment for viewing Isabella Stewart Gardner’s collection of prints and old master drawings, as well as a selection of books, textiles, and family portraits. Drawings by Michelangelo and Bronzino vie for attention with works on paper by Gardner’s contemporaries like Henri Matisse and Anders Zorn. 1

Three Mounted Jockeys (Jockey à Cheval) Abt 1885-1888 Black ink, white, flesh and rose washes, oil pigments on brown paper , 30.5 x 24 cm by Edgar Degas (2)

In the Short Gallery, on the same floor as the Dutch Room, five drawings by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) were stolen. The sketch shown above of Three Mounted Jockeys represents one of Degas' favourite subjects to paint. In fact he created more than 90 paintings and drawings associated with the racing world. We doubt that the thieves knew this fact!

Also taken was Leaving the paddock (below) - again one of Degas' racing works.

Leaving the Paddock (La sortie du pesage), Watercolor and pencil on paper, 10.5 x 16 cm by Edgar Degas (2)
Procession on a Road near Florence (Cortège sur une route aux environs de Florence), 1857-1860, Pencil and sepia wash on paper , 15.6 x 20.6 cm by Edgar Degas (2)

Procession on a Road near Florence, although very hard to discern, is interesting in that again it features the horses that Degas so loved but there is a wonderful depiction of a woman holding an umbrella over other women on the road who appear to be dancing. Degas, is well known not only for horses and jockeys but ballet dancers. And looking at the date when this drawing was done, Degas would have only been in his 20s - so a very early piece which must make it more valuable.

Study for the Programme de la soirée artistique du 15 juin 1884 (Galerie Ponsin), 1884, black chalk on paper, 24.6 x 31.4 cm by Edgar Degas (2)

Finally, the stolen drawings included two studies for programs for the Galerie Ponsin (above and below). Both done in 1884 and both sketched in black chalk on paper.

And here we catch a glimpse of Degas' love of drawing and painting ballerinas.

Study for the Programme de la soirée artistique du 15 juin 1884 (Galerie Ponsin), 1884, black chalk on paper , 26.6 x 37.6 cm by Edgar Degas (2)

The last piece of art work taken from the Short Room was a magnificent Eagle Finial: Insignia of the First Regiment of Grenadiers of Foot of Napoleon's Imperial Guard. The thieves had tried to take a Napoleonic flag but gave up and took the finial instead.

The finial was made by the Parisians - sculptor Antoine-Denis Chaudet (1763 - 1810) and bronze caster Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751 - 1843).

Eagle Finial: Insignia of the First Regiment of Grenadiers of Foot of Napoleon's Imperial Guard, 1813-1814 made by sculptor Antoine-Denis Chaudet and bronze caster Pierre-Philippe Thomire (2) 

The two thieves then moved to the Blue Room which is a gallery brimming with objects that reflect the personal relationships of Isabella Stewart Gardner who established the museum in 1903.

In the early days of the Museum the Blue Room welcomed concert goers, serving as the ladies’ reception area. It displays the work of artists in Gardner’s closest circle of friends. With its low ceilings, fabric covered walls, and well-lit alcoves showcasing paintings, furniture, books, and cases, the Blue Room invites visitors to explore the collection at close range and in an intimate space. 2

From the Blue Room the thieves took Edouard Manet's Chez Tortoni (below). The gentleman in the painting is drawing on a sketch pad but is unidentified.

Chez Tortoni Abt 1875, Oil on canvas, 26 x 34 cm by Edouard Manet (2)

The robbery took 81 minutes with the thieves departing at 2:45am, after making two separate trips to their car with the artworks. The guards remained handcuffed until police arrived at 8:15am.2