You Are Being Robbed: An Art Story

A Gift

My family recently gifted me a reproduction of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. The original is an oil on canvas painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1633. Where is the original? No one knows.

A Crime

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Boston, Massachusetts

March 18, 1990


Two uniformed police “officers” stood outside the museum as the night security guard looked up from his homework. The officers buzzed the intercom and notified the guard of a disturbance in the courtyard. Once inside, the lead officer asked if anyone else was on duty. He said, “Go ahead and call your partner down here.”

A second officer peered at the guard, “You look familiar. Is there a warrant for your arrest?” The security guard stepped from behind the desk, now feet removed from the only alarm button in the museum. “Why are you arresting me?” the guard asked. He was stunned more by the response than the handcuffs: “You are not being arrested. You are being robbed.”

A Masterpiece

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is Rembrandt’s only seascape. The 5-foot by 4-foot canvas details the disciples fearing death on a boat swelled by crashing waves. In the Biblical story, the disciples asked Jesus, “Don’t you care if we die?”

Rembrandt’s painting invites you into the boat. Not only through his use of light, but also by his self-portrait. Rembrandt includes himself among the disciples. He’s in the center of the boat grabbing his hat, a nearby rope, and staring the viewer in the eye.

Perhaps we’ve all felt the wind and feared our own demise.

Jesus, on the boat that day, faced the wind and waves. He said, “Peace, be still.” He’s been calming storms ever since.

A Frame

The thieves walked away from the museum on March 18, 1990 with thirteen pieces of art, the largest property theft in America’s history. It was a haul of $500 million estimated value.

Rather than risk transporting a 5-foot canvas in its frame, the thieves opted to cut the Storm on the Sea of Galilee from its stretcher boards. The frame was left empty upon the wall. If you take a trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the frame still functions as caution tape of a crime scene.

An Invitation

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was stolen thirty years ago. There is a 5 million dollar reward. No one has claimed it.

You can come see the painting in my study. I promise – its not the original.

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