mrs. jack: Old Masters and young men

She was a dashing individualist, “Mrs. Jack” as she was called, startled Boston high society by erecting a Venetian pleasure dome in the Back Bay and filling it with masterpieces for the public to enjoy. Venetian lions guard the entrance, a doorway imported from Florence, to the Isabelle Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston. Above the door is emblazoned the owner’s defiant motto: “C’est Mon Plaisir.”  At the time, pleasure was not that respectable in Boston, but neither in her prime was the flamboyant “Mrs. Jack” with her Paris gowns and carriages, her spectacular jewels and flowers, her retinue of admirers: famous writers, painters, musicians, actors.

Anders Zorn, 1894. Portrait of Mrs. Gardner that captures some of her vivacity

( see link at end ) …The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum displays an art collection of world importance, including works that rank among the most significant of their type. Isabella Stewart Gardner collected and carefully displayed a collection comprised of more than 2,500 objects—paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, drawings, silver, ceramics, illuminated manuscripts, rare books, photographs and letters—from ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th-century France and America. Built to evoke a 15th-century Venetian palace, the museum itself provides an atmospheric setting for Isabella Stewart Gardner’s inventive creation. Read More:

Henry James called Mrs. Gardner’s a “preposterously pleasant career” and the memory of it stays green at Fenway Court, the elaborate Italian palace she designed and built near the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and which, as her will directed, remains pretty much as she left it forever in 1924. Nothing was to be added to or subtracted from, or importantly altered at Fenway Court ( the extension notwithstanding)  As a museum it is not much in the news because it is as static as a pyramid.

---Records show that their steps were traced by the museum’s motion detector system which showed that the thieves went immediately to the second floor, and then split up. One headed into the Dutch Room at the south end of the building and the other to the Short Gallery, a room located above the museum’s main entrance. The thieves showed little regard to care for the valuable items they were stealing. They smashed frames, ripped out the artwork and left broken glass and remnants of canvas behind. Taken in the heist were 13 valuable masterworks, including two principal works –the only seascape that Rembrandt is known to have painted, ’The Sea of Galilee,” and “The Concert,” by Vermeer, one of only about 35 known paintings by the Dutch artist, would command at least $50 million dollars each on the open market today.--- Read More:

The daughter of a wealthy New York merchant, Belle Stewart became a member of Boston’s first families through her marriage to John L. Gardner. Never quite a lady within the strict Boston meaning of the word, she had a temper with which Toscanini’s might have paled in comparison, a sense of showmanship from which Ziegfield might have learned lessons.  She loved Old Masters, young men, and music. With the help of all three, she took Boston by storm.

Surveying American collections, Art News ranked the Gardner fourth in America , after the Frick, the Washington National Gallery, and the Metropolitan. Although it owned fewer than sixty Italian Old Masters, Hendy in 1931 ranked it fifth in the world in this respect. By virtue of being located across the Charles River a mile or two from Harvard’s Fogg Museum of Art, where at the time the vast majority of American museum curators and directors had been trained, the Gardner Collection served as an additional laboratory for their studies. In this respect it has had an important influence on the molding of taste in America.

---Now federal authorities appear to be pinning some hope of solving the mystery on a 75-year-old reputed mobster from Connecticut, Robert Gentile, who is jailed in a drug case. The FBI believes Robert Gentile "had some involvement in connection with stolen property" related to the art heist, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham said in federal court in Hartford this week. Durham said FBI agents have had unproductive discussions with Gentile about the theft, but didn't elaborate on his allegations.--- Read More:


( see link at end): …The warning beeper proved to be the only part of the museum’s security system that deterred the men at all. They would spend 81 minutes moving through the darkened galleries of the Italianate mansion Mrs. Jack Gardner buil

the turn of the century to house her private art collection and share it with the public; they could have stayed all night.

It is also one of the many secrets about the case that investigators have kept to themselves these many years, as they waited in vain for a reliable tip on the whereabouts of the 13 paintings and other artworks stolen that night.

A Globe reexamination of the case, including the first interview with the guard who let the thieves in, uncovers several of those secrets and allows the clearest account yet of what happened on the night of the theft — an account that underscores how defenseless the Gardner was, with its easily foiled security system and two inexperienced guards on duty, one of whom admits he was sometimes stoned while on the job….

---Now, a new book shows that Reissfelder—one of Kerry's clients from his defense lawyer days—may have been behind the largest burglary in American history, the 1990 theft of a dozen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The missing paintings, from Rembrandt, Degas, and others, worth as much as $600 million, have never been found. In The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft, Ulrich Boser uncovers new evidence that Reissfelder may have been one of the thieves. "I found FBI files that indicate that Reissfelder possibly helped steal the art, and he looks almost exactly like one of the police composites," Boser, a U.S. News alum, says.--- Read More: image:

…More details also have emerged about the many leads investigators have pursued, including a sighting of the thieves just before they entered the museum, and a 1994 offer to return the paintings that was never publicized but is considered the most promising tip received so far. The Gardner plans a public appeal today to the anonymous writer who made the offer, and then fell silent for 11 years.

The Globe also came across a possible clue that not even the FBI was aware of — one of the paintings stolen, a small Rembrandt etching, had been taken once before….

…Once inside, the thieves ripped a Vermeer, three Rembrandts — including his only seascape — five Degas drawings, and a Manet from their wall placements, smashing them out of their frames and leaving shards of glass and remnants of canvas behind. The thieves took some of the museum’s greatest treasures but left behind some even more valuable objects.

When they were done for the night, they made two trips to their car with the loot. Then they vanished….Investigators have also sought clues to the identity of the thieves in the particular objects they stole, and those they left behind. They wonder, for example, why the men took pen-and-ink sketches by Degas from the Short Gallery and left behind a far more valuable Michelangelo nearby. The motion detectors also show that the thieves never bothered to go to the museum’s third floor, where perhaps the most valuable piece in the museum’s collection, Titian’s ”Europa,” hangs.

And then there was the anomaly of the thieves’ determined effort to steal a Napoleonic banner. Why would they waste so much time on such an obscure object?…Read More:


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