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Heist history: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft

Don your detective caps as we take a deep dive into the infamous 1990 art theft. 🔍


Isabella’s will stipulated that nothing in the galleries should be changed.

Photo by @mgeise

On March 18, 1990, two men disguised as police officers stole multiple pieces of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in what would go down in history as the single largest property theft in the world.

The Fenway neighborhood museum today reminds visitors of the ongoing mystery, as various gold frames hang empty throughout the galleries.

With the 34th anniversary of the still unsolved case coming up, we’re donning our detective caps and diving into the case.

By the numbers

  • 13 — The total number of stolen artworks.
  • 81 — The number of minutes the thieves spent inside the museum.
  • $200 million — The cost of the artwork the thieves stole, valued at $500 million today.
  • $10 million — The current reward for sharing information that leads to the recovery of these pieces. Got any tips to share?

Meet a few of the stolen pieces

We recommend taking a virtual tour through the galleries, exploring each of the 13 artworks in more detail.

Flowery courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Ponder this mystery while admiring the beauty of the courtyard.

Photo by @yyueliu

The puzzling particulars

While so much of this mystery has left investigators and the public baffled, here’s an overview of some of the most perplexing pieces of the puzzle.

  • The thieves appeared to take their sweet time, spending over an hour looting the museum. For context, the average art heist is ~10 minutes.
  • They didn’t trip the motion sensors on the first floor, though the alarms were reportedly working. The alarms on the second floor went off multiple times.
  • While the robbers did walk away with some of the most treasured pieces, they didn’t steal “The Rape of Europa” by Titian, the museum’s most expensive work.

Still wondering about this whodunnit?

If this has piqued your interest, there are plenty of resources that break down all of the (many) fascinating details and various suspects.

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