Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Gardner

My mother would walk from our apartment in the projects (X) to the Gardnerby Dick Mac

I have been visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston, since 1958.

The museum is very near the Mission Hill Main housing projects, and my mother would stick me in the stroller, leave our apartment on Oregon Court, walk down McGreevey Way, cross Huntington Avenue to Palace Road, and walk to The Fens, often with a visit to the Gardner.

According to stories my mother told me, the courtyard was open to the public in those days and she and I would sit there, under the massive skylights, relaxing while I had a bottle and she a snack. She felt a little awkward, she told me, because all the other visitors appeared to be wealthy and well-educated, and she was just a girl from Mission Hill; but she loved the space and the art and the peace of it all. The guards and staff were always very nice to her and encouraged her to visit as often as she liked. Things were different in 1958.

The Gardner has always been a special place for me. As a teenager I started going by myself, and it wasn't until the mid-70s that they started charging admission.

I was always impressed that the museum featured a Rembrandt self-portrait. A friend told me in 1976 that it was a fake, but I had no reason to believe him.

I brought many potential lovers to the museum, sharing tidbits of information I had gathered over the years, rumors, anniversaries, facts and plain-old lies, to impress them with my knowledge of the collection, building, and benefactor. It worked very well as a tool of seduction. Museums are like that.

In 1990, the museum was the site of the largest art-heist in history. Thieves removed Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet paintings. Yes, Mrs. Gardner owned a Vermeer: The painting "The Concert" hung in her galleries.

The Vermeer! They took the Vermeer! The guy painted only few dozen paintings and his work is some of the most valuable in the world. Never would I see it again.

Left behind, of course, was the Rembrandt self-portrait that my former friend had claimed was a fake. Was this proof? Another Rembrandt was taken, but the self-portrait was left behind. Why? It's probably a fake. The crooks removed it from the wall, but left it behind. If it was real, it would have been taken.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the heist, the event is back in the news.

There remains a five million dollar, no-questions-asked reward, and the U.S. attorney's office is offering immunity to anyone who will come forward with information.

Do you know where the paintings are?

Boston art heist rattles investigators 20 years on

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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