The Bizarre, True Story of the World’s Greatest Living Art Thief

Jul 11, 2023
Dimitris Passas

NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: LitHub (by Michael Finkel).

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.

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