Rembrandt paintings heist at Taft Museum bungled in 1973

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, 1973, at 1:57 a.m., two men wearing ski masks and gloves pointed a pistol at a night watchman at the Taft Museum of Art and forced him to take them inside to the second-floor gallery. They taped his arms and legs to a chair, then stole two paintings and left.

The paintings, “Man Leaning on a Sill” and “Portrait of an Elderly Woman,” were by Rembrandt, the revered Dutch Old Master painter, dating to the 1640s. They were part of the art collection at 316 Pike Street and had been bequeathed to the people of Cincinnati by Charles Phelps Taft in 1927. They were appraised for insurance purposes for $250,000 and $80,000, respectively.

The theft made splashy headlines. “Two Taft Rembrandts Stolen.” “Art Theft Triggers International Hunt.” The Cincinnati police worked with the FBI and Interpol in hopes of recovering the paintings, which could be sold on the black market or ransomed.

December 1973: "Man Leaning on a Sill" by Rembrandt at the Taft Museum.

Enquirer art critic Owen Findsen wondered why the thieves had “selected two paintings of lesser importance than others they could have taken.” They had ignored the more significant Rembrandt, “Portrait of a Man Rising from His Chair,” which was temporarily exhibited with a companion portrait from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was being shown on a different floor than usual.

pevita pearce

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