Private Investigator Aims to Solve the Mystery Behind America's Biggest Art Heist

Photo of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor22 June 2017

13 artworks stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 resulted in a $500 million loss, and set the record for what remains the biggest art heist the United States has ever seen. Nearly three decades later, private investigator Arthur Brand believes he’s making valuable headway in this notorious cold case.

The Gardner Heist was a colossal robbery resulting in the theft of treasured paintings by Old Masters, including The Concert (1664) by Vermeer, and Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) by Rembrandt. After almost 30 years, it seemed unlikely that these masterpieces would ever see the light of day again; that was, until Arthur Brand got on the case.

Vermeer, The Concert, 1664 | WikiCommons

Brand has an impressive track record of recovering lost artworks. In 2016, he worked to return four of the 24 paintings stolen from the Netherlands’ Westfries Museum in 2005. That same year, he secured two stolen paintings by Salvador Dalí and Tamara de Lempicka following a theft at the Scheringa Museum of Realist Art in 2009. “I’ve cracked some huge cases,” Brand told artnet News. “Locating the [stolen art] is almost always the hardest part. You have to ask around in the underworld—sometimes it takes years—and then you have to negotiate.”

Thus it would appear that Brand is the right guy for the Gardner job. He’s currently working as a middle man between government officials and anyone who claims to have information about the paintings’ whereabouts. At the moment, the consensus between the FBI and head of security at the museum is that the artworks are still in the country, but Brand is pursuing a promising lead across the pond in Ireland.

Whether Brand will come up with anything tangible remains to be seen. On June 12, the Boston Globe published an article questioning whether the artworks’ recovery is as imminent as Brand believes, given that materials likely dotted with the robbers’ prints—such as duct tape and handcuffs found at the scene—have supposedly been lost. An added complication is that all three criminals identified as the Gardner thieves are now dead from various causes.

“It’s not about who did it anymore,” Brand said to artnet. “It’s about getting these pieces back. It’s world heritage!” He urges anyone with credible information to come forward, for which the Gardner Museum is currently offering a $10 million reward. While he acknowledges the distinct possibility that the artworks have since been destroyed, Brand told artnet News that he does “have some leads that confirm that they still exist.”

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