I enjoy classical concerts. In younger days, my husband and I both enjoyed more raucous “rock” concerts — he was a drummer, I played keyboards, so between the two of us we’ve attended our share, both as performers and as fans.
Today, though, we prefer the quieter, more sedate atmosphere of the symphony. The times are a bit more convenient for us, too. We only attend Sunday matinee performances. Rock concerts are always far too late for us to be out and about.
Yes, things change as we get older.
Although I do write a lot about music in this blog and how it often relates to art, the main focus here, of course, is on visual art. If you delve into art history you’ll find a lot of paintings throughout the ages that feature music and musicians. I won’t include a listing here — there are far too many paintings — but a quick search online will show you a dazzling array of music-themed art, from the famous dancers of Degas, to girls playing piano, to music lessons, and to this work by Johannes Vermeer, titled “The Concert”.
Despite the title — and who am I to question the artist himself? — I see this more as a music lesson, a sort of “impromptu” concert rather than a performance before an audience.
It’s a beautiful painting, especially for those of us who love music. Here is a bit of information about The Concert:
…shows three musicians: a young woman sitting at a harpsichord, a man playing the lute, and a woman who is singing. The harpsichord’s upturned lid is decorated with an Arcadian landscape; its bright coloring stands in contrast to the two paintings hanging on the wall to the right and left. A viola da gamba can be seen lying on the floor. The musicians’ clothing and surroundings identify them as members of the upper bourgeoisie. The male lute player, for instance, wears a shoulder belt and a sword. Despite its simplicity, the black and white marble flooring is luxurious and expensive.
— From Wikipedia: The Concert
But there is more to the story because no one knows where this painting is. It’s been stolen, you see, and even there… well, there’s still more to the story.
The painting was “stolen” originally in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an American television show popular in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In the 1964 episode “Ten Minutes From Now”, five paintings are replaced by forgeries. According to Wikipedia, The Concert was among them. Here is a note from IMDB:
The painting they show being stolen is “The Concert” by Johannes Vermeer. This painting was subsequently stolen in real life from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, and still has not been recovered to this day.
A case of life imitating art? Maybe so. I can’t help but wonder if this mystery thriller episode featuring a struggling artist may have ultimately led to the actual theft of the painting.
I’ve never understood art theft, although it’s a topic that fascinates me. What does a thief do with a stolen masterpiece? It boggles my mind. I just can’t see why anyone would purchase a “hot masterpiece” from a black market. Whoever owns this can’t show it off, so what’s the point? Apparently for some very wealthy collectors, the point is simply having a particular painting.
But, back to the story. The painting was owned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. In the early hours of the morning on March 18, 1990, a vehicle pulled up at a side entrance. Two men dressed as police officers rang the bell and told the guard on duty that they were responding to a disturbance. The guard allowed the men to come in through the employee entrance, stepping away from the guard desk. This guard and another were quickly handcuffed and tied up, then shut away in the museum’s basement. The thieves then made off with thirteen works of art, all in less than 90 minutes.
The overall value of the paintings has been estimated by the FBI at 500 million dollars. Vermeer’s painting is said to be the most valuable stolen object in the world. It alone is worth $250 million (estimate given in 2015).
To date, the case remains open. Not a single painting has been recovered. The museum is still actively investigating and is offering a $10 million reward for information that leads to the recovery of the stolen art.
There were motion detectors installed, and the movements of the thieves were recorded. The thieves quickly cut the paintings from the frames, and to this day the empty frames are on display as a reminder of the heist.
You can learn more about the crime and about the artworks stolen by visiting the museum’s website:
You can also virtually enjoy the galleries and gardens of the museum here.
To learn more about the theft, you can listen to a WBUR podcast: Last Seen, or you can read one of the many books written about the Isabella Stewart Gardner and the famous art heist.
Book Riot offers a good collection: 11 Great Books About Isabella Stewart Gardner
So where is The Concert? I’ve got no idea, do you?
QUICK UPDATE: Netflix is now featuring a new documentary series on this heist. The title is “This Is a Robbery”. We started watching it yesterday, and it’s quite interesting. If you have Netflix, be sure to check it out while it’s available.