Ladies and gentlemen…hold onto your hats for a Book Blogging Bliss first…a nonfiction genre critique!
Ulrich Boser, a writer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and various other publications, devoted several years to solving the mystery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist. Boser’s research culminated in a 233 page book on the case, entitled: The Gardner Heist: The true story of the world’s largest unsolved art theft. The Gardner theft, which occurred over two decades ago, on March 18, 1990, is the largest art crime in history. The two thieves that broke into the Garner Museum in Boston on that fateful night in March so many years ago, stole a total of 13 pieces of artwork, valued at over $500 million. Among the stolen pieces were Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni, five Degas sketches, Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert, Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk, as well as Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black.
Boser’s obsession to locate the missing Gardner artwork began after meeting Harold Smith, an independent fine arts claims adjuster (aka “an art sleuth who works for insurance companies”). Smith, in his five-decade career as a claims adjuster “had recovered lost Renoirs, exposed forged Da Vincis, and tracked down stolen Matisses. He had rescued a missing Stradivarius violin in Japan, hunted down the famous Janiece Christner collection of Faberge eggs” (13). Despite all these brilliant successes, the Gardner theft was a case that haunted Smith for years; the recovery of the Gardner masterpieces alluded detection and the theft remained unsolved. To Smith, locating the missing masterpieces was a labor of love. He once told Boser, “There are hundreds of thousands of people who would be deprived of seeing that art. Losing that art is like losing our history, our culture. I want it back” (14). Boser, likewise found himself drawn to the mysterious Gardner case, and when Smith passed away several weeks after their meeting, Boser found himself “picking up where [Smith] left off” (14).
Ulrich Boser summarizes his journey to uncover the masterpieces in a fairly concise paragraph. He states:
“My search for the Gardner art would take me to four countries, a dozen states, and more cities and towns than I care to count. I would develop a deep and consuming zeal for the case. I would chase countless leads, stake out suspected thieves, and fly thousands of miles to interview underworld figures who swore that they could return the lost paintings. My life would be threatened more than once. And while I would unravel some of the biggest puzzles of the heist, I would eventually discover that the Gardner case wasn’t a mystery like the ones in movie theaters and Saturday afternoon TV specials, a cozy whodunit that wrapped up neatly at the end like an algebra problem. It was more like a mystery with a capital M, the sort of enigma that you find in church pews or philosophy lectures or on the canvas of an Old Master painting, something clear and compelling but also abstruse and obscure, something essentially unknowable” (14).
Throughout The Gardner Heist, Boser writes in greater detail about the missing artifacts from the museum, the robbery itself, as well as the leads he follows in an attempt to recover the pieces. As a reader who usually avoids nonfiction, I found this book to be very intriguing. Boser writes clearly and concisely and overall, his book reads like a novel. Although he includes a great amount of detail, I never found myself overwhelmed with facts. The topic of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist is compelling and beyond interesting. Not knowing a great deal about the heist before I started reading, I can certainly say that I learned a lot about the case itself as well as the history of the art underworld. Boser presents a myriad of interesting insights on the heist, but it is a bit disheartening to know that the Gardner theft to this day remains unsolved (especially after reading about the hours, months and years of hard work invested in uncovering these masterpieces by both Harold Smith and Ulrich Boser).
If you have a chance, pick up this book and experience the mystery of the unsolved Gardner Heist!