Where Is The Concert?

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:

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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.

 

47 Comments

    1. I found out yesterday that there’s also a Netflix series! We started watching it, plus I’m reading a book about the heist. It is quite a mystery. I’m going to go in and update my post now to include info on the Netflix series.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That Vermeer looks like a forgery to me. I’m not an expert but I read a book about an artist that forged Vermeer during WW2 and he sold a lot of fake Vermeers. One thing he did to age the paintings was bake them in the oven which burned the paint. This painting is too dark and gray to be a real Vermeer and the lute player is hard to see. A weak figure isn’t like Vermeer. A lot of the forgeries are still out there that have been donated to museums. The museums hang the paintings and the plaques say, “attributed to Vermeer” but you can see they aren’t up to Vermeer’s standards. The museums don’t want to tell their rich patrons that they got robbed so they hang a fake. If I can tell the difference they can too. Wouldn’t that be ironic if they stole a forgery?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting reading! I’m fascinated by stories of art thefts, art forgeries, and the process of “authentication”. I wonder, too, how many women artists remain unknown because their husbands or other men in the family took credit for their work.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. You are bringing up a good point there with the idea that a lot of female artists through history might be unknown because a man took credit for their work. I love stories about art fraud too. The art world is a place where a good con man can make a nice living!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I just watched another episode of the Netflix series. Apparently there are a lot more art thefts than we know. A lot of museums don’t want to report them.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I watched the rest of it last night. Wow! That got complicated! So many characters involved.
        Doesn’t really add up either why they cut the paintings when they could have just loaded them into the car in the frames but took the time to do that and might have destroyed them by rolling them up. Do you have any ideas about the mystery of it? I guess it points to the mob but it seems unprofessional for the mob.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I was really disheartened by the end of the series. My take-away is that the FBI has a fairly good understanding of who did it, but there’s no way to prosecute now. The important thing is recovering the art works, but that probably won’t happen. I’ve always wanted to think of stolen artworks being preserved by a wealthy, eccentric collector. From this, it seems more likely they’re just left to rot away somewhere. Even if they were ever recovered, they would probably be ruined beyond repair. I hate the thought of priceless works of art being in the hands of people who don’t care a whit about art. It really made me sad. I was surprised, too, to learn that art theft is much more common than people suspect. 😦 Apparently it’s considered very easy to steal.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yeah, it’s like they had no idea what they were doing. Art only has value because we agree it does. To people that don’t love art it’s only paint on canvas if they can’t sell it.
        And it’s easy to steal and not insured for theft? I wonder why they didn’t beef up security as soon as the guard complained about it being lax. That was irresponsible.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I know… I guess there were other priorities. I remember Anne Hawley saying that they needed environmental controls, and that’s important too. So, I guess concerns about theft are farther down in the priority list. I’m sure it’s hard to manage finances. So much funding has been lost for art programs over the years. The same thing has happened with classical music. If it’s not appreciated by “the masses”, it’s tough for it to survive.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The art theft makes sense to me, actually. We have an addictive relationship with beauty. And for some that borders on obsession. It explains why some people try to control romantic partners who captivate them. There’s probably some complex psychological reason for what we seek when we cage an object of beauty. Maybe feeling like it is ours makes us feel like we are one with beauty and it will not be taken away from us. I’m no expert in psychology or art history but I did enjoy the post and the thought you sparked.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I just watched the Netflix series and learned a lot. Apparently organized crime uses art theft as a “bartering tool” — something I’d never considered. I’d rather think of the stolen art being in the home of an art lover, not stashed away in some hoodlum’s storage locker. 😦

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      1. Yes, I can see that. But even as illegal currency, it’s still probably among a very small group of people who know the true worth and will take care of the piece carefully (if for its financial value, even if not artistic). And that is reassuring when I think of all the cases of art that was destroyed during wars, looting and colonialism.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I learned a lot from it, and I’m even more baffled now as to how something like this can happen. So many different pieces of the puzzle, and yet nothing really fits together.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. well, now i have to go and watch that..lol..as far as my own theory on it..maybe they just hated the Vermeer family and decided to burn all the paintings- why else would they cut them out of a frame like that and ruin the integrity and value?lol…kind of a joke really but, seriously…never understood art theft either..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Netflix series explains a little more about why art theft happens — and apparently it happens a lot more often than we realize. Watching the series was eye-opening for me.

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  4. My husband is also a drummer. I was a classical vocalist but attending the symphony was heavenly for us. While he studied the mechanics and melding of so many instrumental sounds, the beat or lack thereof, the cohesiveness etc, I was lost in the melody lines, the emotion of the melody, speed and tempo. Such an opportunity for growth and inspiration..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like us. My husband wasn’t exposed to much classical music until we met, whereas I wasn’t exposed to much rock, so our relationship became a learning experience for both of us. I think he probably enjoys the symphony more than I do in some ways because it’s still a “newer” experience for him.

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      1. Exactly..Hugh is busy analyzing all the components and each instrumental section…he commented “it is technically difficult to get this kind if cohesion.” It opens a mind to a more expansive expression..

        Liked by 1 person

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