More about thieves (and black paint)

December 15th, 2008

Although art theft is a fairly fashionable topic, it is not one of my favorites most likely because it has less to do with art and more to do with theft. So the upcoming book about the sordid Gardener theft (which netted Vermeer’s Concert among its victims) is off my reading list for the time being.

Moreover, the loss of The Concert saddens me in particular because it was the first Vermeer I ever saw and one that taught me a big, free lesson as an art student at RISD.  The painting convinced me that, instead of opening doors, my painting teachers had more simply replaced old dogmas with new dogmas which were more or less as restrictive as the first.

Then, as throughout most of the 20th c., one of the most entrenched mantras of realist painting technique was that black pigment would single-handedly destroy the luminosity of shadows. Black was in fact an inexorable sign of the Sunday painter.  But even after my first glance at the real Concert, it seemed obvious that Vermeer had made abundant use of it to render the play of light on the background wall lending this passage a rare pearlessence full of mystery and nuance. Moreover, black was one of the principle components of the composition’s deepest shadows. Scientific analysis reveals that in one form or another, black is the only pigment which can be found in every canvas by Vermeer.

Back to the book:

PW Daily lets us know about the upcoming The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. In a pill, here’s the story.

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, thieves posing as cops entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and left with a haul unrivaled in the art world, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, valued today at $600 million. Boser, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, turned amateur sleuth after the death of a legendary independent fine arts claims adjuster, Harold Smith, who was haunted by the Gardner robbery. Boser carried on Smith’s work, pursuing leads as varied as James “Whitey” Bulger’s Boston mob and the IRA. Along the way, he visited felons—including the notorious art thief Myles Connor—and Bob Wittman, the FBI’s only art theft undercover agent. Boser’s rousing account of his years spent collecting clues large and small is entertaining enough to make readers almost forget that, after 18 years, the paintings have still not been found: the museum is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to their return.

Leave a Reply