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The Man Who Robs Art Museums

The Man Who Robs Art Museums
Image: Antenna / Unsplash

Stephane Breitwieser is “perhaps the most prolific art thief in history,” said Michael Finkel in GQ. The Frenchman has robbed more than $1.4 billion worth of art from nearly 200 museums and steals like he is performing a magic trick, without violence or a frantic getaway.

When 47-year-old Breitwieser sees a piece he likes, he says, “I get smitten. Looking at something beautiful, I can’t help but weep.” He never sells anything he steals, but simply brings the piece home to adore. “The pleasure of having,” he says, “is stronger than the fear of stealing.”

He became hooked after lifting an antique pistol from a French museum at age 22, and by the early 2000s he averaged a theft every two weeks. His trick is acting as casually as possible and waiting for a distraction, sometimes slipping paintings under his oversize coat while on guided museum tours. He did many heists with his longtime girlfriend, who’d cough softly when someone approached as he unscrewed display cases with a small Swiss Army knife. At an art fair in Holland, Breitwieser heard someone shout “Thief!” and turned to see security guards tackle another burglar. He nabbed a painting amid the commotion.

Arrested and imprisoned several times, Breitwieser was caught yet again last month after French police discovered Roman coins and other objects in his home, allegedly taken from museums in France and Germany. “Art has punished me,” he says.

Possible Preaching Angle: Greed; Temptation; Original Sin – This guilty person says, “Art has punished me.” But really it is the power of sin and yielding to temptation that truly punished this man.

Source: Michael Finkel, “The Secrets of the World's Greatest Art Thief” GQ.com (2-28-19)

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