With the twenty-third anniversary of the heart-breaking (and art-taking) robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum still fresh in our memories, perhaps it is timely to reflect upon the fate of another Frans van Mieris painting – Man at a Window Smoking a Pipe (1658). This painting which, funnily enough, depicts a man at a window smoking a pipe, had been happily ensconced in Romania’s Brukenthal National Museum until thieves struck in 1968 and stole it along with seven of its compARTriots. The Brukenthal National Museum, like the Gardner Museum, and like the Art Gallery of NSW, wanted their stolen works returned.
Fast forward thirty years and the Man at a Window Smoking a Pipe was one of four paintings recovered from the original group of eight that were taken. The year was 1998 and their location? Florida, USA! A savvy art evaluator, whose suspicions were aroused when the four stolen works were brought to him for assessment, contacted authorities and it wasn’t long before the artworks were recovered and returned to the Brukenthal National Museum. It turns out that a Romanian immigrant had brought the four old masters with him to the United States. He claimed he had bought them from a gypsy back in Vienna for $1200.
The whereabouts of the remaining pieces in this cache of stolen artworks is currently unknown. Still, the recovery and homecoming of the four paintings lost for thirty years must surely engender some measure of hope that one day the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Art Gallery of NSW will both experience their own special homecomings. Let’s hope they don’t have to wait much longer!