Cover Image: The Art Thief

The Art Thief

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Member Reviews

phenomenal doesn't even begin to describe this book. anyone who knows me knows that I hate non-fiction but maybe that's not the case anymore. surprisingly, it read like fiction to me which made it extremely enjoyable. i can proudly say that I'm obsessed with Stéphane Breitwieser. he is one of the world's greatest art thieves and his story is just incredible. i don't want to spoil the book but it tells the tale of art, heists, love, obsession, and betrayal. this book was a masterpiece and i don't think anything i say will do it justice. there were parts that made my heart flutter and parts that made my jaw drop. i feel bad for the next book i read because it will be so hard to measure up.
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Stephane Breitweiser stole the greatest number of art treasures in Europe since Hitler. But he didn't know when to quit and that was his undoing. His father was wealthy and they lived in a manor house with art treasures all around them until his parents split up when he was 19 and he stayed with his mother. They had to move to a smaller house and had no art, no fine furnishings; no luxuries. He began to steal from stores to get what he wanted. Then he met Anne-Catherine and fell in love. He had no job and no money except for gifts from his maternal grandparents. His mother's house had an attic bedroom and an adjacent living room so he lived there with Anne-Catherine. They began to steal objects from museums all over Europe - whatever struck his fancy or spoke to him when he was in a museum. Anne-Catherine acted as lookout and he deftly stole items which he could hide under his coat, in his pockets, or in Anne-Catherine's purse. They mostly got away with their thefts for ten years and accumulated treasures worth about 2 billion dollars which they stowed in their two room attic space. The attic was always kept locked and only the two of them ever were allowed inside. 
Finkel has done a great deal of research for this story. He itemizes the people he interviewed at the end of the book. Stephane is a broken man with very dim future prospects. This story left me feeling sad for him and for the people whose lives he impacted.
Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC of this book; the opinions are mine and i was not compensated for them.
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This was an incredible true story about the most prolific and brazen art thief in history. Between 1995 and 2001, Stephane Breitiviser is said to have stolen 239 valuable/priceless works of art from 172 museums, cathedrals and castles all over Europe. The author, Michael Finkel, extensively and meticulously researched his life, psychological theories about his mental and emotional state, personality, enablers, police investigations, and court cases. Many involved in the case, including Stephane himself, were interviewed. 

 Stephane considered himself superior to other art thieves as he never stole for profit. He felt the art was better cared for 'under his ownership' than in museums. While viewing specific works of art, he was overcome by aesthetic adoration and an obsession to have the treasure for himself to revel in its beauty. He was assisted by his long-time girlfriend, Anna-Katherine Kleinklaus, who frequently accompanied him and served as a lookout when he committed a burglary. He carefully removed desired objects using merely a Swiss Army knife, and the robberies were committed in daylight hours. Art objects he brazenly stole included paintings, sculptures, antique weapons, dishes, and decorative containers. He wanted to feel the joy of owning the object and the thrill of acquiring it. 

 He hoarded all the stolen works of art in two rooms in his mother's attic, where he lived with Anna-Katherine. All available spaces were decorated with his ill-gained treasures. He deluded himself into thinking that his mother thought he was carrying in cheap art acquired at flea markets while his mother denied seeing anything. Items estimated at between one and two billion dollars were displayed for the couple's pleasure. He was arrested, eventually confessed, and showed an encyclopedic memory of everything he stole and where he acquired all the items. He was sentenced to three years in prison and served twenty-nine months. (2015). During the trial, Anna-Katherine expressed a strong dislike for him and denied helping him. 

 Stephane's mother, his estranged father, and grandparents were strangely tolerant of his crimes. He had been spoiled, enabled, indulged, and felt entitled. His mother provided him and his girlfriend with living space in her home and later apartments, groceries, several cars and even gas money. After Anna-Katherine abandoned him, his mother found him a new girlfriend, Stephanie, and he moved into her apartment. He lived off Stephanie, his mother, and government assistance. 

 In 2009, he had the impulse to shoplift designer clothes, and then a valuable painting estimated worth $50 million. Much to his surprise, Stephanie kicked him out of her apartment and notified the police. While he was in prison again, his enraged mother threw all the gold, silver, and ivory artwork into the Rhine. They are recovered from the mud, restored, and returned for display. Sadly, all the paintings and wood carvings were believed to be burned in the forest, a shocking and tragic loss of culture and art. 

 In 2016, badly in need of money, he went against all his stated principles, went on a robbery spree, and sold his accumulated valuables on eBay and other internet sites. Almost 200,000 dollars he had gained was recovered, and he was sentenced to prison again in 2019.

 This fast-paced, gripping story is highly recommended for art lovers and true crime readers. Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada (Knopf Canada) for this compelling 
book. Publication is set for June 27.
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I loved this, couldn't put it down.  It reads like a caper, hard to believe how often, how easily and how successfully Stephane Breitweiser stole so much precious art.  I was absolutely riveted by the insights into his mental health and his relationships with his Mother and his girlfriend Anne-Catherine.
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Fascinating story - I find the art industry overall to be so intriguing, so this one was fun for me. I found it covered all of the important parts of what happened and was quick enough to not lose interest. This should be a movie.
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