An office focused on what’s missing
Images of some of the world’s most coveted masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer adorn the walls of a cramped office in Boston’s Fenway. A name plate from the frame that held Manet’s “Chez Tortoni” is propped above a keyboard on the desk.
They are a source of inspiration and heartache for Anthony Amore, security director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. He has spent countless hours in this small room on the fourth floor of the historic palace, searching for clues in an agonizing quest to recover treasures stolen years before he was hired to protect the collection.
“When you are looking for something for a long time and it seems like an impossible task, you need inspiration,” says 52-year-old Amore, whose office is filled with reminders of the $500 million worth of artwork stolen 29 years ago.
A high-resolution color photograph of Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” mounted on foam board hangs over Amore’s desk. At 4 feet by 3 feet, it dominates the room, but is considerably smaller than the original 5-foot-by-4-foot seascape that was pulled from its frame by the thieves.
The office walls are covered with smaller images of some of the missing art. Brackets that once held the stolen “Chez Tortoni” in its frame are now in a plastic bag on Amore’s desk.
Two thieves dressed as police officers were buzzed into the museum in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, and tied up two guards on duty. In addition to Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings, they got away with works by Manet, Flinck, and Degas, as well as a bronze eagle finial from atop a Napoleonic flag and a Chinese beaker, or “Ku.”
The window in Amore’s office overlooks Palace Road, where the thieves parked and were let in at the museum’s side door.
Scratches made by the culprits are still visible on a square metal plate resting on a file cabinet in Amore’s office. The stolen Ku had been mounted on the plate.
None of the artwork has been recovered, despite a $10 million reward offered by the museum and promises of immunity for those who have the stolen treasures.
There also are items in Amore’s office that reflect his other passions: family, politics, history, and literature. The Swampscott Republican — who made an unsuccessful run last year for secretary of state — has a framed photograph on the wall of father and son former presidents, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
There is also a postcard depicting Paul Revere, and a copy of President George Washington’s farewell address, which Amore explains by noting, “I’m an aficionado of the American Revolution. That’s my thing.”
Photographs of his two daughters, Alessandra and Gabriela, and some of their school artwork are also on display. A collection of books — including some written by Amore — fill a book case. Many are about art and, of course, art theft.
Amore says his office captures his interests, but “more than anything you can see the amount of stuff related to the theft is overwhelming. And that’s really what the theft is: overwhelming.”
Even his daughter Gabriela’s sketch, drawn in 2008 when she was 11, focuses on her father’s unrelenting search. It depicts a girl with a pony tail, standing in front of an empty frame and peering into a magnifying glass. She’s saying, “Now I will help my dad find stolen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and sleep in my dads office for the night.”
Amore says he never let anyone sleep in his office, but he has solicited all the help he can get in his effort to recover the artwork.
Since Amore took over as security director at the museum in 2005, he has worked tirelessly alongside FBI agents and federal prosecutors to recover the masterworks. He’s created a massive database with details of every tip chased over the last 29 years.
Three file cabinets in his office are jammed with folders labeled with names of suspects and “people of interest,” an assortment of gangsters, petty criminals, and art thieves.
In 2012, the museum opened a new wing and Amore was moved to a spacious, modern office there. But, the original building, built by Mrs. Gardner and opened to the public in 1903 drew him back.
He said he feels more comfortable in the 6-foot-by-15-foot office, even though it’s often hot and gets noisy when air blows through a ceiling vent. It’s located above the galleries that he’s charged with protecting.
“The collection is here,” Amore says of his location. “Two floors below me is the empty ‘Storm on the Sea of Galilee’ frame. This is where I should be.”
His office is on the same floor where Gardner lived until her death in 1924. Her living quarters were converted to office space, for use by the museum’s director, in the late 1980s. Amore’s office was previously a maid’s bedroom.
Amore keeps a photo of Gardner and her husband, Jack, who died before the museum was opened, framed on his office wall. It’s the first thing he sees when he opens the door — another source of inspiration to keep pushing to reclaim the art that belongs in the museum she left in her will “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.”
In 1942, 95 paintings and nine stained glass works — including works by Titian, Rembrandt, Cranach, Zorn, Vermeer, and Whistler — were removed from the Gardner museum and sent by armored truck to an estate in Center Harbor, N.H., for safekeeping during World War II, according to the museum archives.
The museum’s photographer, Joseph Brenton Pratt, took photographs of the paintings, which were hung in their place until the originals were returned in 1944.
Today, a copy of Pratt’s black and white photograph of Vermeer’s “The Concert” is framed and mounted on Amore’s office wall. Amore says it was a gift from the late photographer’s son, Christopher, providing added inspiration to fuel his hunt for the stolen original.
The investigation is daunting, but Amore says he remains hopeful that one day the stolen masterpieces will be back on the museum’s walls. He says a veteran State Police detective speculated the key to the mystery is in the old files.
Amore points to his cabinet stuffed with folders and says, “So the answer is in here.”