Will Billboards help Return $300 Million in Stolen Art?


Over the weekend, the Boston Globe picks up a piece by London’s Financial Times, that Eric Ives, head of the FBI’s major theft unit, is considering using billboards to aid its investigation of the works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. One of the works stolen includes this work, which is Rembrandt’s only seascape. The total value of all of the works has been estimated at $300 million. I’ve written about this theft before, in terms of a new documentary here. The best account of the theft I’ve found is Court TV’s here.

Will Billboard’s work? I’m not sure. They certainly can’t hurt. The idea, I suppose, is for someone to catch a glimpse of these works and after seeing the billboard, alert the authorities. I’m not sure there would be much of a market for these works, as they are so widely known in the art world, that there would certainly be an impossibility of a good faith purchase. The law would not honor the sale because the buyers should know that these works have been stolen.

Fascinating theories abound, involving Boston Mafia and IRA members. Certainly, no one will be able to sell these works on any licit market, and if the thieves are caught, there may be a prosecution under the National Stolen Property Act if the transaction has a federal character (like crossing state lines for example). At this point, nearly 16 years after the theft, there does not seem to be any leads for the FBI Investigation, and a billboard campaign may serve to renew interest in the theft.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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