‘This is a Robbery’: The Paintings That Never Made It Back

4 Min Read

R E V I E W – S E R I E S

Ayaz Hamid

Circumstances surrounding theft of art have always been a fascinating topic, because there is something inherently attractive around the theft of priceless works of art and the methods devised to carry it through.

What happened on the night of 18 March, 1990, in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, however, was not your average robbery. It is a tale shrouded in mystery despite the best efforts of criminal experts and investigators to get to the bottom of the story and uncover the true nature of the perpetrators.

Netflix’s new documentary series, This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist, portrays perhaps one of the most infamous and unsolved art heists of all time. Colin Barnicle, the director of the series, has done a decent job at showcasing the current theories and deductions made by investigators, journalists, and experts over the years, and the lingering question of the motive(s) behind the robbery.

This heist materialised in such enigmatic and strange ways that it had experts dazed. The robbery took place during Saint Patrick’s Day; the perpetrators dressed up as policemen and infiltrated the museum quite easily due to their fake identification and uniforms. Thirteen items, including works from renowned artists like Degas, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet were stolen, and were never to be seen again.

The robbers took their time; indeed, it seemed as if they had all the time in the world, and evidence shows that there is a chance it was an inside job, indicating that something more sinister than a few individual robbers was involved.

The series goes on a four-segment journey where individuals who were there during the robbery recount their experiences and possible theories as to who took it. The theories regarding organised crime being responsible, along with other key players, sets up an eerie stage where the tingling feeling of mystery shifts into the fear of the unknown and opens up possibilities of dark and even murderous intentions behind the act.

While it shifts towards being a gritty, crime docuseries from an art-centric one from the second episode onwards, This is a Robbery has surprisingly good pacing and the ability to keep its viewers hooked on the details of the robbery. Featuring extensive interviews and details from witnesses and people of interest such as the museum director of that time, as well as documentation and descriptions from both federal archives and local newspapers.

The in-depth analysis of the events truly expounds upon the notion that no stones remained unturned during these 31-year-long investigations, yet no one has any come closer to the truth. While it does seem to drag on at some points, with slightly excessive and cinematic depiction of events, it provides a solid experience and explanation of how things turned out on that night in 1990, where the frames of the thirteen stolen pieces of art stand empty to this day.


Ayaz is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur who also happens to dabble in songwriting from time to time. Hit him up at [email protected] if you can tolerate an annoying Bob Dylan fan-boy fawning over fancy words.


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