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Likely Stories - The Art Thief by Michael Finkel

The Art Thief, by Michael Finkel, is a true story about a young couple who stole $2 billion worth of art - that's with a B- for more than seven years across Europe, totaling a treasure of more than 300 pieces.

You can't make this stuff up. Stephane Breitwieser was obsessed with art. He felt all art should be fully available to the public. They should be able to get up close to the art, to touch the art, and to even be able to sit in one's chair at home and eat popcorn while viewing art. He stole the art in his words, "to surround himself with beauty, to gorge on it." Breitwieser felt museums were prisons for art, and apparently he needed to break them free. Unlike most art thieves, he never stole for money.

He kept all his lifted treasures in his apartment which he shared with his girlfriend, Anna-Catherine Kleinklaus, on the top floor of his mother's home. Talk about your five-finger discount. They stole from museums, churches, exhibits, auctions, and castles. They stole oil paintings with a love especially for late Renaissance and early Baroque styles. He preferred works from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Not just any piece would do. He took silver cups, vases, bowls, wristwatches, tapestries, beer tankards, flintlock pistols, and hand-bound books. /He had his own collection of 500 books on art for reading and researching, as well as academic papers.

If you are envisioning something like "The Thomas Crown Affair," or a Mission Impossible drop from the ceiling, that's not how they did it. With Anna-Catherine on the lookout, during the day, often surrounded by tourists and on guided tours, Breitwieser simply used a multiple-tooled Swiss Army Knife. He wiggled screws loose and unbound wires. He picked locks, often then waving goodbye to the staff and security on the way out the door. They hid their loot in her large bag, or his overcoat A couple of times what they'd stolen was too big to walk out with, so he tossed it out the window onto the grounds and picked it up later.

They stole enough art to fill a room at the Louvre. Stealing was "aesthetic champagne." It made them feel "bubbly."

For all time, art has been stolen, but never as successfully as Breitwieser. No master thief has ever topped him. He averaged one theft every 15 days. The more they stole, the more risk Breitwieser was willing to take, including stealing without Anna-Catherine around. As reported in the book Breitwieser "believes he is a literal seer, one of the chosen few who can perceive the true beauty of things." One of my favorite thefts, if you can have such a thing, was when Anna-Catherine wasn't around. It was a rainy and dreary day with absolutely no one in an out-of-the-way church, so Breitwieser decided to take a 150 pound statue of the Madonna. The description of him dragging the Virgin Mary down the aisle because it was too heavy to carry was both appalling and hilarious. The audacity!

I'm sure the audiobook is great, but you will want to see a hardback. There is a map of Europe at the front of the book showing all the thefts. Switzerland is nearly covered in dots. There is also a sketch of their attic apartment showing where each piece was displayed, and in the middle of the book are color photos of some of the stolen pieces.

The Art Thief, by Michael Finkel was captivating, and the ending was shocking! You will want to read this one!

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