Did the Gardner art thieves use this Guidebook as a shopping catalog?

Ben Zotto
7 min readApr 25, 2021

Some of the art works chosen in the 1990 heist have puzzled analysts. The Museum’s own self-published Guide offers some uncanny clues to the haul.

When I was a kid growing up in the Boston suburbs, we lived next door to the family of would-be art thief Brian McDevitt. He was briefly a suspect in arguably the most spectacular modern art heist: the overnight robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in March of 1990. McDevitt almost certainly wasn’t involved, but even as a kid we heard whispers about it. The caper was a big deal.

The theft of thirteen works — including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer — has never been solved and the art never recovered, and the mystery has only grown in cultural signifance. A recent Netflix miniseries and a very good 2018 podcast series have gone deep into the 30-year-old story.

One of the enduring puzzles about the robbery is why the thieves took the specific works they did. The Rembrandts and Vermeer, sure. But they also took a Chinese vase, a bunch of Degas etchings, and a French flagpole topper. The museum contained far greater treasures close at hand. Why this selection?