This painting presents a dramatic interpretation of a famous biblical tale—Jesus and his apostles fighting a savage thunderstorm, their small, unsteady boat atop a massive breaker. An early Rembrandt, the work shows all of the artist’s unbound audacity, and he slipped a small self-portrait into the canvas, painting himself as one of the disciples,looking straight out at the viewer. When Isabella Stewart Gardner fi rst received the painting, she wrote a letter to her famed art dealer Bernard Berenson, saying, “I am now as a tramp who has the Sun all to himself.”
The Concert, Johannes Vermeer
The most valuable of the paintings stolen by the thieves. Born in Delft, Holland, the Old Master created only 36 works in his lifetime, and at first glance, the painting simply features aman and two women playing music together. But look at the painting again, and their relationship becomes less clear. Are they just playing music together? Is there something sexual? For experts, that’s why the painting is so powerful—it provides no definitive answer—and art historians have long hailed Vermeer as “the Sphinx of Delft.”
Landscape with an Obelisk, Flinck.
When Isabella Stewart Gardner purchasedthis landscape in 1900, she believed the work was a Rembrandt. So did her dealer Bernard Berenson, who wrote that it was “beyond question the finest of [Rembrandt’s] landscapes.” But it turned out that Govaert Flinck, one of Rembrandt’s apprentices, created the painting. A Harvard graduate student made the discovery a few years before the heist, uncovering evidence that the Rembrandt signature on the canvas had been forged by a 19th-century art dealer.
Chez Tortoni, Manet
Perhaps the first modernist, Manet used turn-of-the-century Paris as his muse, and he painted hundreds of detailed street scenes. Women drinking coffee, friends listening to music, and in Chez Tortoni he depicts a man sitting at a table. At first viewing, the work seems to be an uncomplicated portrait. But then one notices the man’s hard stare, the loose brushstrokes and the artwork appears to be an examination of the fleeting nature of images, a modernist snapshot of life.