If you want to carry out an audacious art heist in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, then there’s no better time than St. Patrick’s Day. It was on that day in 1990, when almost all of the city was celebrating their Irish heritage, that Chez Tortini, along with a number of other artworks were taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. As with all the other works, the whereabouts of Edouard Manet’s famous portrait of an unidentified gentleman remains a mystery, despite the fact the gallery is offering a $5 million reward for its safe return.
It’s believed that Manet completed this piece in 1879 or 1880. Apart from that, little is known about it. Above all, while it’s made clear that the portrait is set in the Cafe Tortoni de Paris, a favorite hangout of the French realist, the subject of the work is never revealed. That is, nobody knows for sure whether it’s a portrait of one of Manet’s friends, relatives or simply a stranger he wanted to paint. Quite possibly, the man in question was a fellow Bohemian, quite possibly an artist or a writer. But what is for certain is that Chez Tortini is missing, presumed gone for good.
According to the FBI, the painting, along with the 12 other works stolen from the Boston Museum in 1990, were offered up for sale on the black market in Philadelphia ten years later. The Bureau has their suspects, but so far, nobody has admitted to knowing the whereabouts of the Manet or of any of the other works. What’s more, since one of the main suspects, a known Boston gangster with the connections needed to pull off such a job, died in 1991, it seems likely Chez Tortini will remain missing for the foreseeable future.