1633 painting by Rembrandt van Rijn,
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
This Famous Antique Game - October 2015
By Mike McLeod
This is the famous 1633 painting by Rembrandt van Rijn, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. In addition to its notoriety because of its creator, this painting is doubly famous due to its being stolen in the largest private art heist in history. It is still missing today.
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was in the collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass., when it was stolen, along with a dozen other masterpieces of artwork, on the morning of March 18, 2010. The art thieves, dressed as policemen, were granted access to the museum at about 1 a.m. by a guard. The thieves then handcuffed both guards on duty to pipes in the basement.
In just over 80 minutes and with a few trips to their getaway car, the thieves absconded with three works by Rembrandt: Storm on the Sea of Galilee (which was cut from its frame; the other paintings were taken from their frames), A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633), and Self Portrait (1634); Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880); Jan Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660); Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk (1638; a student of Rembrandt’s); five works on paper by Edgar Degas; a Chinese vase or Gu; and a finial from the top of a Napoleonic flagpole.
All disappeared and were gone, but not forgotten—$500 million in art is hard to forget.
Twenty-five years later in March of this year, the FBI announced that the two thieves were dead. The FBI did not reveal their names, which is odd, but since it is still working to get the art returned, it could be assumed that revealing the culprits might hamper the process.
However, in August, the FBI did reveal that a six-minute security camera video of a possible dry run by one of the thieves had been found. The video can be seen on YouTube, as can the back of the thief’s head.
Much speculation has been made about why these particular artworks were stolen and where they may be, and much of it has been disproven. Was it an inside job with the help of one of the guards? None have been formally charged. Was it the work of organized crime? Some think so, but nothing definitive has been revealed to the public.
Other questions are still unanswered. Why steal those paintings and art when they are too well known to be sold on the open market? Was there a shopping list for a private, unscrupulous buyer? Whether or not these were taken for private collections, it appears specific items were targeted because the most valuable painting in the museum was not taken, The Rape of Europa by Titian.
No one has ever been charged with this crime.
The museum continues to offer a $5-million reward for information leading to the recovery of the art in good condition. That reward would just be for starters—the person who actually knows who stole the art, why, and where it is now would make multi-millions for the book and movie rights.
A virtual tour of the rooms where the art was stolen can be seen at GardnerMuseum.org. Four empty frames hang in the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in hopes that The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, The Concert (the most valuable painting stolen worth $200,0001), Landscape with an Obelisk, and A Lady and Gentleman in Black will be returned one day.
Who was Isabella Stewart Gardner?
She was an art-appreciating and collecting, philanthropic, outrageous, wealthy, museum-creating, consummate Boston Red Sox fan who was actually profiled in the book, Fenway Park: A salute to the coolest, cruelest, longest-running baseball park in America, by John Powers and Ron Driscoll.
Born in 1840, married in 1860 to John Lowell "Jack" Gardner, she had a son in 1863 who died before his second birthday. Her husband’s wealth from his shipping and railroad businesses (his father became wealthy shipping pepper from Sumatra) allowed them to attempt to escape their sorrows by collecting art the world over, which eventually resulted in the creation of the museum.
In Fenway Park, Isabella is honored with this: “As the [Boston]Globe’s Jack Thomas wrote in 1988: ‘There was only one Isabella Stewart Gardner, which is too bad, for nobody was better at shocking Boston society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries…. She demonstrated contempt for propriety by walking down Beacon Street with pet lions, and posed in a low-cut dress with pearls around her hips for a John Singer Sargent portrait considered so risque that when it was displayed at the St. Botolph Club in the winter of 1888, Jack ordered it taken down, and it was never again shown in his lifetime.”
“Mrs. Jack, as she was known, once caused a huge commotion at Symphony Hall. In December of 1912, two months after the Red Sox beat the New York Giants in the World Series, she appeared at a concert wearing ‘a white band around her head and on it the words, ‘Oh you Red Sox’ in red letters,’ as a Boston gossip columnist put it. ‘It looked as if the woman had gone crazy…almost causing a panic….’”
“‘Oh you Red Sox’ was a popular song with the Royal Roosters, a group of Boston baseball fans known for rowdyism,” Patrick McMahon, a Museum of Fine Arts curatorial project manager told the Boston Globe in 2005. ‘Symphony goers must have thought for a moment that one of those raucous drunks had slipped into the building.’”2
Isabella Stewart Gardner passed away on July 17, 1924—a long time before the robbery of her art. Good thing for the thieves; she would have tracked them down a long time ago with the help of the starting lineup of the Boston Red Sox.
Those correctly identifying the painting were: Rachel Ohtani, Ginny Richard and Sherry Blanton of Old School Antique Mall in Sylva, N.C., and Ted Carlton of Utah.
1 Stolen, Independent Lens, PBS.org; DVD available at email@example.com.
2 Fenway Park: A salute to the coolest, cruelest, longest-running baseball park in America by John Powers and
Ron Driscoll, p. 37.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum