It was a rare, 16 th-century bugle that eventually took him down.
Stephane Breitwieser was inspecting the Richard Wagner Museum in Switzerland and was seduced by the splendid brass section that was one of only 3 that existed in the nations of the world. So he did what came naturally to him after virtually seven years of revelling his love of art–he stole it.
But this time, unlike hundreds of seasons before, his insolent actions did him in. When he decided to return to the museum two days later to envision what else might catch his eye, a security guard recognized him and called the police. Breitwieser’s crime spree had come to an end.
For over six years old, Breitwieser, an everyday Frenchman with an exceptional love of art, trolled museums and private collectings across Europe, facilitating himself to the parts that caught his eye. He amassed a private collecting of his own, to the tune of 239 sections of arts and priceless artifacts from 172 organizations totaling over a billion dollars. He was one of the most prolific skill thieves in modern history.
His crimes against the European art world were bad enough. But Breitwieser committed one other unforgivable sin–he entrusted much of his hoard to his mommy.
When the law eventually caught up to him in late 2001, his dear maman Mireille destroyed over 100 patches of art and precious artifacts that were residing in her home and that were eventually thought to be worth $30 to $40 million.
It all started when Breitwieser was a young chap in his early twenties. He had started on a vocation as a attendant, cultivating primarily across the border from his hometown of Mulhouse, France, in Switzerland. While that may have been his daylight occupation, Breitwieser professed to be a” self-taught art lover .”
In 1994, according to a 2005 section in Forbes , he was visiting the Musee des Amis de Thann in Alsace, France, when he became enraptured by an 18 th-century handgun.
It was the lax protection around the part that stimulus him to make a move that would eventually characterize their own lives. Detecting that the case was unlocked, Breitwieser decided to relieve the museum of their antique handgun.
” The handgun mesmerized me. My center was get 100 kilometres per hour, I was startled, but I was driven by affection. I requested myself,’ What &# x27; s holding me back ?'” Breitwieser said.” Afterwards, I slept with the handgun beside me–I cleaned the wood, removed the rust-brown; I plowed it like a babe I was nursing. But I was still very frightened. Each era for a few months I bought the newspaper, but the museum said nothing about the theft–a lot of museums prefer to asphyxiate these things. Eventually I calmed down .”
In his own memoir and to other correspondents, he claimed that his rampage began a year later, in 1995, when he and his lover were visiting a castle in Switzerland.
There, he saw an 18 th-century covering that wasn’t that precious, but that reminded him of a Rembrandt.
So, while his girlfriend played lookout–a persona she would cuddle for the rest of his criminal career–he alleviated the canvas of its chassis, substance it under his jacket, and took it residence.
He has maintained that his criminal inclination stanch solely from a infatuation for the objects that fell victim to his sticky fingers.” I did it because I adoration these things, because I simply had to own them ,” he told a writer for Forbes who too noted that he showed” not a shred of compunction .”
But it seems he may have been evenly persuasion by the lax security that plagues many smaller museums.” There was often no guard or anything–all “youve all” do was bend down and pick something up ,” he said.
Whether it was the antique pistol or the Rembrandt look-alike who supported his gateway pharmaceutical, stealing skill became an almost instant addiction. Until he was caught in November 2001, the attendant continued to travel around France, Switzerland, and other European countries and stole the gems that caught his eye.
Particularly early on, these jewels were Old Master paintings. He took Pieter Brueghel’s” Cheat Profiting from His Master ,” Francois Boucher’s” Sleeping Shepherd ,” Corneille de Lyon’s” Mary, Queen of Scots ,” and Antoine Watteau’s sucking” Two Men .” The most famous Old Master he embezzled was Lucas Cranach the Elder’s” Sybille, Princess of Cleves .”
But in addition to the Old Master paints, Breitwieser increasingly facilitated himself to antique objectives and artifacts of value. They wandered from ceramic segments, vases, jewelry, priceless musical instruments, antique artilleries, and much more.
” Looking back on this case, there was a blueprint of exactly one or two objectives being taken from different museums. But we thought it was the work of a gang. What happened here was simply unimaginable ,” Alexandra Smith, runnings manager at the Art Loss Register, told The New York Times .
The art thief wasn’t just extraordinary for his audacity–according to experts in the field, serial thieves of fine art are very unusual; he was also unique in what he did with his spoils. Breitwieser wasn’t interested in profiting from his hobby, and he never attempted to sell a only piece. He truly wanted the parts “hes taken” for his own enjoyment.
He accumulated most of his plunder in his bedroom at his mom’s house in Mulhouse, France, and “hes taken” the utmost care with each jewel.
He often reframed the canvases before organizing them in his makeshift bedroom gallery in which, according to Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg in Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists , he” impeded the illuminations dim and the colours drawn to protect the paintings from fading .”
He did everything he could to care for the artistry. Everything, that is, except pass his” manage with attend” mantra on to his mother.
After Breitwieser was arrested, his girlfriend-cum-accomplice informed his mommy of what had happened.
Mireille freaked out. While she initially claimed that she had no idea the value of the works and that she destroyed them out of anger toward her son, many of the authorities involved have suspected that she did “what shes done” out of loyalty.
And what she did turned what could have been an plotting art stealing caper into a tragedy.
Mireille got to work destroying all draws of evidence. She shredded 60 Old master canvases, putting some of the patches down the waste disposal and shedding others out in the junk along with the ruined frames.
Then, she rounded up 109 of the artifacts, bronzes, and antiques her son had collected and she unceremoniously dropped them in the Rhone-Rhine Canal. It consider that she destroyed around two-thirds of Breitwieser’s entire pull.
Though altogether disastrous, her acts were initially effective. Regrettably, she and her son were not on the same sheet.
Once in custody, Breitwieser said he hoped that the evidence of his misdemeanour is helpful in get him out of his attach. He promptly professed all, told the authorities where they could find his pillage, and even, according to Guardian reporter Jon Henley, hoped his cooperation might help him prevail brownie points that would result in his being asked to advise some of the very same organizations he had cheated.
But when housing authority arrived at his mother’s home a few weeks subsequently, all tracings of that proof he had placed them to were departed. It was merely after ancient artifacts began cleaning up on the banks of the river that they started to believe the real depth of such crimes. It would take them various more months to get Mireille to acknowledge to her role in the felony.
Given the extent of the destruction to culture artifacts and priceless works of art, the parties involved get off with relatively light penalties.
Mireille dished 18 months in prison, Breitwieser’s girlfriend did six months for her role, and the serial skill lover-turned-thief acted several years in Switzerland before being sentenced to 26 months in jail in France. In 2006, Breitwieser wrote a memoir entitled Confessions of an Art Thief .
Perhaps Breitwieser’s punishment was worse than it seemed. After all, the” eccentric kleptomaniac ,” as Smith called him, never stopped claiming he played out of a cherish for the art. And in the end, that cherish was what led to their destruction.
While awaiting his sentencing in a prison in France, Breitwieser struggled suicide. Some reports claimed he did so after learning the fate of his treasured jewels.
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