BOSTON. Nineteen years after the largest property theft in American history, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has joined forces with FOX-TV’s popular “America’s Most Wanted” to try and retrieve over $500 million in stolen art, including Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
“So–nobody made a copy?”
The initiative has brought “AMW” host John Walsh to Quincy Market, a popular tourist destination, to view the results of a strategy law enforcement officials call “crowdsourcing”–broadcasting an investigation to a wide audience by print, TV and the internet in order to crack cases gone cold.
John Walsh, looking serious
First up is Madeline “Maddy” Conagh, from Braintree, Mass., who retrieved a suspicious-looking painting from a rental locker at her health club.
“The styles are very similar–wouldn’t you say?” Walsh asks Claude Weiss-Baron, an art expert engaged to assist the AMW team in its quest.
“This work shares Rembrandt’s bold themes, muted colors and sense of drama,” Weiss-Baron replies, “and yet something isn’t quite right.”
“What is it, precisely?” Walsh asks.
“It’s the cow in the upper-left corner,” he says decisively. “There were no cows in Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
Walsh turns to Conagh and says “I’m sorry Maddy–you don’t get the $5 million reward.”
“I was countin’ on that money to go to the Cape this summer,” the woman says, obviously disappointed. “Now it’s just gonna be me and Joe, going on day trips to Nantasket,” a popular but crowded beach on Boston’s South Shore.
“We have a home version of America’s Most Wanted for you,” Walsh says, handing the woman a board game in a cardboard box. “You can use it to turn in friends and relatives involved in check-kiting schemes.”
“Thanks,” she says. “You mind if I leave the painting here? We only have garbage pick-up once a week now with municipal budget cuts and all.”
“Sure,” Walsh replies. “Thanks for being on the show.”
Next up is Sean Dailey, a plasterer’s apprentice from Framingham, Mass., who came upon a curious oil painting depicting thirteen men having dinner while he was renovating a house. “I thought at first it was some kind of bachelor’s party,” he says with a leer. “Then I did a little research and thought maybe it was a Friar’s Club roast of Don Rickles or sumpin’.”
Bachelor’s party or innocent “roast”–you make the call.
Weiss-Baron takes out an eyepiece similar to a jeweler’s loupe and examines the work closely, then takes a step back and snorts with derision. “I’m sorry to disappoint you,” he says, “but this piece of meretricious frippery is just a sentimental piece of kitsch not unlike what you’d find in a religious trinket store.”
“Like Sheehan’s Church Goods behind the old Jordan Marsh?” Dailey asks. “My mom used to take us there for all our holy card trading needs.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you are referring to,” Weiss-Baron sniffs, and Walsh spreads oil on the troubled waters of Dailey’s countenance with an America’s Most Wanted one-size-fits-all baseball cap.
“Thanks, man–this is cool!” Dailey says. “Do you, uh, have a dumpster or sumpin’ out back where I can leave this thing?”
Pieta, or tchotke?
“Sure thing,” Walsh says. “Just leave it here, I’ll have the janitors throw it out tonight.”
The final hopeful to come forward is Sandra Grolnic, a volunteer at the Brookline, Mass. recycling facility who retrieved a unique-looking statue of a young man lying across the lap of a woman from the “take-it-or-leave-it” area where residents drop off household items that still have some life left in them.
“Well, what do we have here,” Weiss-Baron says, showing interest for the first time all night.
“Hold it right there–stop the cameras,” Walsh says, abandoning his characteristically professional demeanor for one that borders on irritation. “Who let her in here?” he asks an associate producer in a testy voice.
“This is extremely valuable–as scrap metal.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Walsh,” a young man with a clipboard says apologetically. “We needed somebody to fill out the half hour.”
“The Gardner Museum thieves took paintings–not sculpture!” he says irritably. “She belongs on Antique Road Show!”