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Stéphane Breitwieser: Prolific Art Thief

WestportReads 2024 - The Art Thief - The Crimes of Stéphane Breitwieser

Link to The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, And A Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel in the catalog
Link to Master Thieves: The Boston gangsters who pulled off the world's greatest art heist by Stephen Kurkjian in the catalog
Link to Priceless: how I went undercover to rescue the world's stolen treasures by Robert K Wittman in the catalog
Link to The Woman Who Stole Vermeer by Anthony M Amore in the catalog
Link to The Rescue Artist: a true story of art, thieves, and the hunt for a missing masterpiece by Edward Dolnick in the catalog
Link to The Art of the Con : the most notorious fakes, frauds, and forgeries in the art world by Anthony M Amore in the catalog

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The Bizarre True Story of the World's Greatest Art Thief

The world’s greatest living art thief is likely a 52-year-old Frenchman named Stéphane Breitwieser, who has stolen from some 200 museums, taking art worth an estimated total of $2 billion. While working on a book about him, I interviewed Breitwieser extensively, during which he discussed the details of dozens of his heists—and also expressed the brazen belief that his art crimes should be considered forgivable.

But only his crimes. Breitwieser said that he didn’t even like being called an art thief, because all other art thieves seemed to be nothing more than art-hating thugs. This includes the most accomplished ones, like the two men who robbed Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on the night of St. Patrick’s Day, 1990. The Gardner thieves assaulted the pair of overnight guards, bound the guards’ eyes and mouths with duct tape, and handcuffed them to pipes in the basement.

Then the Gardner robbers yanked down a magnificent Rembrandt seascape, and one of the men stuck a knife in it. Breitwieser can hardly bring himself to imagine it—the blade ripping along the edge of the work, paint flakes spraying, canvas threads ripping, until the masterpiece, released from its stretcher and frame, curled up as if in death throes. The thieves, whose $500 million crime remains unsolved, then moved on to another Rembrandt and did it again. “They’re barbarians,” said Breitwieser.

Breitwieser, along with his girlfriend, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, who served as lookout on most of his thefts, never resorted to violence, or so much as the threat of violence. They stole from museums only during opening hours, using subtle diversionary tactics that permitted Breitwieser to make things disappear, magician-like, from walls or display cases, while carefully avoiding security cameras and alarm systems. The couple escaped by strolling out a museum’s front door, the artwork usually stashed beneath Breitwieser’s overcoat. Continue reading from LitHub

Link to Art Heists that Made History resource guide series