02/01/2013 08:24 am ET

Is Art Theft An Act Of Homage?

A crime that happened over a hundred years ago has just been put right. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has returned an ancient Roman bronze that has been in its collection since 1904 to a museum in Douai in France. Routinely checking the work's history, the MFA realised it was a work stolen from Douai's Musée de la Chartreuse in 1902!

So a forgotten art crime has been rectified: the Boston museum immediately alerted the French one and put the statuette on a plane. If nothing else, it must give a sliver of hope to museums around the world that have yet to recover masterpieces stolen decades ago. As it happens, the most painful unsolved art crime of recent times also took place in Boston, when the city's lovely Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was robbed of works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet and Degas on the night of 18 March 1990.