This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
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On St. Patrick’s Day in 1990, a pair of thieves dressed as police officers robbed Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, making off with 13 pieces of art that had a combined value of over $200 million. No one has ever been charged and the art has never been recovered. But this documentary presents a convincing case for who did it.
The biggest names are the artists whose works got boosted: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet.
The cliche about crime in Boston is “no one saw anything,” no matter how publicly it happened. The residents of certain neighborhoods have a reputation for being exceptionally tight-lipped when it comes to cooperating with law enforcement. That means there’s a history of unsolved crime–especially during the period when organized crime was most active. In the Charlestown section, 75 percent of murders between 1975 and 1992 went unsolved, an extraordinarily high percentage, according to the Boston Globe. And no one who might know has ever said anything about the city’s most famous unsolved mystery, the robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
The details of the case as laid out in This Is a Robbery are totally fascinating. There’s the perfect storm of things that went right for the thieves that enabled them to get inside the building. There’s the fact that they had the run of the place for an unthinkable 81 minutes. There are their odd choices in what they stole and how they took it (they just cut the paintings right out of the frames!). And there’s the sheer eye-popping monetary value of the internationally revered art these random Boston hoods took–$200 million in 1990 dollars, an estimate that’s increased by hundreds of millions more in the years since. One of the stolen pieces, Vermeer’s The Concert, is thought to be the most valuable stolen object in the world.
The story would be interesting no matter how it was told, but fortunately the documentary tells it well. Producers Colin and Nick Barnicle pace their true crime whodunit for maximum entertainment value, laying out pieces of evidence that build up to twists and reveals that make you feel like you’re watching The Departed.
Over the course of four episodes, This Is a Robbery does its best to answer the question of who took the art in the hopes of finding out where it is now and recovering it. (The $10 million reward the museum is offering should be an enticement for information, but these Beantown crooks don’t crack.) The story contained in the docuseries is surely old news to Bostonians who have been following it for decades, but the global platform Netflix has given the case will only make millions more people invested in the art’s return. Hopefully these missing pieces of history are still out there, waiting to return home to the empty frames that still hang on the gallery walls.
If you like true crime stories that feel larger than life, you have to check out This Is a Robbery. It will introduce you to colorful characters, ask you stimulating questions, and make you want to ship up to Boston to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
The true crime junkie or mafia aficionado in your life. A certain type of bloodthirsty true crime fan may not take to the show because the central crime isn’t a murder, but anyone who generally enjoys Netflix documentaries will probably like this.
In conjunction with the series release, Netflix had 13 crypto artists digitally reimagine the missing artwork and created a cool online gallery to feature them.