The Art Thief is a true story about Stéphane Breitwieser, the world’s most prolific art thief. It’s a spellbinding story about obsession, written by Michael Finkel the bestselling author of The Stranger in the Woods.
I must admit to being intrigued by how one could accumulate so many treasures without getting caught! Here’s a guy who, over a period of about 10 years, pulled off about 200 heists at museums and cathedrals in Europe, amassing over 300 objects valued at close to two billion dollars. How is it possible?
Stéphane is the thief, and his girlfriend Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus is the lookout person. The real surprise is not only how Stéphane pulls it off, but that, unlike most art thieves, he kept the art under lock and key and doesn’t sell it, even though he could desperately use the money!
I found I had trouble putting the book down even though I knew how this story ends. Full marks to author Michael Finkel for pulling it off. The book tends to jump around to explain the behavior of the world’s most successful art thief, but it is pretty much a biography of Stéphane Breitwieser–born into a well-off family in France with an enabling mother and distant father. The parents get divorced when he’s at university – apparently studying to be a lawyer. Dad disappears and so does the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Mom is left to struggle in her small apartment in a French industrial town. Stéphane lives rent free in her attic (he’s continually broke) and finds his only escape is art and collectables from the 16th and 17th centuries. He picks up odd jobs here and there including a stint as a museum security guard!
Art became his obsession. He read hundreds of brochures, handouts, catalogues, even bios on the masters. Author Michael Finkel details many of his exploits and looks extensively at why this art thief was so successful.
Finkel takes us into the strange world of a prolific art thief –a world of obsession, danger, and risk. Despite his girlfriend’s pleas to stop stealing, Stéphane continues until one final day when his world comes crashing down
A worthwhile read – 8.5 on a scale of 10.
The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime and a Dangerous Obsession. Copyright 2023 by Michael Finkel, published by Alfred A. Knopf and Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch