Thursday, 25 May 2017


Johannes Vermeer's "The Concert," c. 1664
Officials at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston announced Tuesday a twofold increase in reward money (from $5 to $10 million USD) for the recovery of some 13 highly prized works of art stolen during the infamous American art heist of 1990.

Among the pilfered masterpieces by artists such as Rembrandt, Manet and Degas, (collectively worth around $500 million USD) includes a metaphoric representation of harmony in love in Johannes Vermeer’s music-themed oil on canvas, “The Concert,” created by the Dutch painter around 1664.

Vermeer’s masterpiece depicts a trio of musicians performing in unison: a young woman on the harpsichord, a man plucking a lute, and another young female showcased engaging in song, whilst a playerless viola da gamba gently lays on the floor in the foreground, as if absorbing into it’s hollow wooden shell the very vibrations of unified harmony - thus making the ambient noise produced by the group an unseen, representational fourth player.

The Concert, along with the other 12 stolen works of art vanished in the early morning hours of March 18th, 1990 when a duo of uniformed men - disguised as Police Officers - gained entry into the building by informing the museum’s on-duty guard that they were there responding to a call.

From the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website:

“Once inside, the thieves asked that the guard come around from behind the desk, claiming that they recognized him and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The guard walked away from the desk and away from the only alarm button. The guard was told to summon the other guard on duty to the security desk, which he did. The thieves then handcuffed both guards and took them into the basement where they were secured to pipes and their hands, feet, and heads duct taped. The two guards were placed 40 yards away from each other in the basement.

The next morning, the security guard arriving to relieve the two night guards discovered that the Museum had been robbed and notified the police and director Anne Hawley.”

The museum’s Board of Trustees, as they have been since 1990, are appealing to the public for help in solving this case, touted as the largest art heist in US history.

Anyone with information about the stolen artworks and/or the investigation should contact Anthony Amore, Director of Security at the Gardner Museum, at 617 278 5114 or email him at

The $10 million price tag currently offered for the recovery of “The Concert” and the other 12 missing paintings (listed here) expires at midnight, December 31, 2017.

Did you know?
The art heist of 1990 wasn’t the first time Vermeer’s famous painting went ‘missing’: it seemingly vanished from the art world in 1696 after being sold in Amsterdam and would not be ‘recovered’ until nearly a century later, in 1780.

The viola da gamba (literally, “leg viol”) - a large, bowed string instrument played between the legs made popular in Europe during the baroque and renaissance eras – makes a total of four appearances in Vermeer’s music-themed paintings (the other three being The Music Lesson (1664), The Woman with a Lute (1665) and A Lady Seated at a Virginal (1672). The instrument, for reasons never revealed by the artist, remains unattended – and thus unperformed – by any of the figures depicted in the famous works.

Listen below to an exquisite recording of late 16th-early 17th century Scottish soldier, musician and composer Tobias Hume’s “Harke, Harke,” performed by the eminent gambist and Catalan conductor Jordi Savall (ends at 2 minutes in):


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