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How a Rembrandt wound up on a pig farm

Stealing Beauty
By DANIEL MCGOWAN  |  August 10, 2011

The next time you're bored on a Friday night and considering a caper at the RISD Museum, Anthony Amore wants you to consider this: you're more likely to make a few bucks begging the high school crowd on Thayer Street.

He ought to know. The Providence native (he grew up in Silver Lake, went to Classical High School, and hung around a few criminals when he worked summers in the city tax collector's office in the late '80s) is the director of security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which is perhaps best known as site of the largest (and still unsolved) art heist in history in 1990.

Now he's pushing his new book, Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists, which he co-authored with the Boston Herald's Tom Mashberg. The book features a collection of stories about various thefts involving the works of the famous Dutch painter.

And for some reason, there have been plenty of attempts to boost the poor guy's paintings. Amore says his favorite story stems from a 1972 theft at the Worcester Art Museum. Two thugs stormed in, shot a guard, and made off with four pieces of work valued at more than $1 million. But, as is often the case, the criminals couldn't find a way to sell the paintings.

The artwork bounced around New England for a couple of weeks and even made a stop for a few days at a pig farm here in Rhode Island before the FBI recovered the cache and the thieves were sent to prison.

That's the thing about art heists, Amore says. The end result is almost always the same. The crimes are usually committed by halfwits (as opposed to Danny Ocean types) who think they're going to cash in before realizing the market for stolen art isn't exactly booming. The going rate for a famous piece on the black market? Roughly 10 cents on the dollar.

And that's if you can find a buyer, which, if you're some small-time crook who's used to fencing car stereo systems, you won't.

"It is extraordinarily difficult to complete an art theft," Amore said. "The hard part isn't necessarily getting the painting out of a museum or a home . . . it's difficult to actually move the work. Most of these guys don't know what to do with it."

Which is how something as beautiful as a Rembrandt can end up on something as filthy as a pig farm.

Amore, who says he won't sleep well until the still-missing Gardner haul (valued somewhere around $300 million) is recovered, believes the book is as educational as it is entertaining. It offers basic background on all of the Rembrandts stolen over the years and it sheds light on one of the most underreported crimes in the world.

"Half of all art theft happens in homes," Amore said. "People don't like to report it because they look vulnerable."

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  Topics: This Just In , Books, Crime, Boston Herald,  More more >
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