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Your Stolen Art? I Threw It Away, Dear

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by mental invalid, May 17, 2002.

  1. mental invalid

    mental invalid Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: May 11, 2001 Messages: 13,050 Likes Received: 8
    Your Stolen Art? I Threw It Away, Dear

    PARIS, May 16 — For years Stéphane Breitwieser, a youthful-looking Frenchman, traveled through Europe working as a waiter, and in his off hours visited out-of-the-way museums where he looked for opportunities to walk off with what he liked. He stashed stolen oil paintings, rare musical instruments and other art objects in his private collection in his mother's home in Mulhouse, in eastern France, investigators said.

    Last November his luck ran out at a museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, and he was arrested on charges of stealing a bugle. On learning of the arrest, the police said, his mother chopped up the oil paintings, which were left for trash collection, and dumped other art objects in a canal.

    The case has stunned art experts because the 60 paintings and 112 objects that the police say Mr. Breitwieser has admitted stealing were estimated to be worth at least $1.4 billion. Among the paintings destroyed were works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Corneille de Lyon and Watteau.

    His mother, Mireille Breitwieser, 51, was arrested on Tuesday on charges of possessing stolen goods and destroying art.

    "I have never heard of anything like this before," said Alexandra Smith, operation manager at the London-based Art Loss Register, which records and tracks stolen art. "I think he was just an eccentric kleptomaniac who loved 17th- and 18th-century art. A lot of people expect works of art to be well protected with alarms and clamps, but he clearly worked out that most are not, so he took what he wanted."

    French investigators said that Mr. Breitwieser, 31, made no effort to sell the stolen artworks, which came from dozens of museums in France and five neighboring countries. Instead, he kept them in a bedroom, apparently for his private viewing pleasure.

    The police said that Mrs. Breitwieser claimed she destroyed the art out of anger at her son. But they said they believed that her principal motive was to remove all incriminating evidence against her son. Less than one week after Mr. Breitwieser's arrest, his mother's home was searched and nothing was found.

    According to investigators, Mrs. Breitwieser admitted chopping up the oils, many of which were painted on wooden panels. She said that other art objects, which included silver and ivory statues, 18th-century porcelain and medieval weapons as well as ancient musical instruments, were thrown in the Rhône-Rhine Canal, which runs near Mulhouse.

    Detectives in Strasbourg, France, who are in charge of the French side of the investigation, said that some objects were found in the canal by hikers on Nov. 27, a week after Mr. Breitwieser's arrest. Subsequently, police officers dredged part of the canal and found numerous artworks. They also contacted the Art Loss Register, which identified some objects as having been stolen from European museums.

    But it was only this month, when Swiss investigators requested permission to interrogate Mrs. Breitwieser in France, that the connection was made between her son and the objects found in the canal. Mrs. Breitwieser, who was arrested along with her son's girlfriend, Anne-Catherine Kleinklauss, appeared to have had no inkling of the value of the works that she tossed out.

    Ms. Smith of the Art Loss Register said that French police officers had given her a rough estimated of the art's value at between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion, although a detailed list of the artworks involved has not been made. It is unclear whether that estimate will hold up. "It's difficult to gauge their value without a full list," she said, "but some paintings, like Cranach's `Princess of Clèves,' are worth a great deal, maybe $8 million. In reality, because they are irreplaceable, they are priceless."

    The French daily France Soir, which first reported the story on Wednesday and appears to have received a detailed briefing from Strasbourg investigators, said that destroyed works included Brueghel's "Cheat Profiting From His Master," stolen from a museum in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1997; Watteau's drawing of "Two Men," stolen from a museum in Montpellier, France, in 1999; François Boucher's "Sleeping Shepherd," stolen from a museum in Blois, France, in 1996; Corneille de Lyon's "Mary, Queen of Scots," also stolen from the museum in Blois in 1996; and the Cranach, stolen from a museum in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1995.

    Quoting French police officers, the newspaper said that most works were stolen from museums in France and Switzerland, but Mr. Breitwieser also took objects from museums in Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany. More than 50 museums appear to have suffered losses.

    According to France Soir, Mr. Breitwieser, whose grandfather was a painter, liked to describe himself as a self-taught art lover. It said that in his early 20's he began stealing from auction houses and antiquarian shops. Later, while working as a waiter in Switzerland, he began stealing from museums. The newspaper quotes him as telling the police that he always did so "in broad daylight, without break-ins, during visiting hours."

    The stolen objects were invariably small, which made it easier for him to carry them out of museums under coats. Investigators said that, with paintings, he would wait until museum guards were out of galleries, then swiftly cut them from their frames, roll up the canvases under a coat and leave. He would study the stolen works in local arts libraries, investigators said, and then often had the paintings reframed before they were stored at his mother's home.

    No remains of the destroyed paintings have been found, although many of the metal art objects dredged from the canal can probably be saved, Ms. Smith of the Art Loss Register said. But some objects, like a 17th-century violin stolen from a museum in Basel, Switzerland, appear beyond repair.

    While no one could imagine destruction of artworks on this scale, the case has nonetheless drawn attention to the lack of adequate security in many small European museums. "It simply costs too much for them to secure everything," Ms. Smith said, noting that Mr. Breitwieser pointedly avoided trying to steal from major museums in Paris and other large cities.

    Meanwhile, the art theft business continues to flourish in Europe, with chateaus and private mansions targeted as often as small museums. But while investigators estimate that some $8 billion worth of art and art objects are stolen in Europe every year, they also believe that most thefts are carried out by gangs in league with crooked dealers, who are in turn skilled at exporting stolen European art to the United States.

    "Looking back on this case, there was a pattern of just one or two objects being taken from different museums," Ms. Smith said. "But we thought it was the work of a gang. What happened here was simply unimaginable."
  2. beardo

    beardo Guest

  3. Are2

    Are2 Guest

    so what...
    my shit gets buffed all the time:p :p
  4. --zeSto--

    --zeSto-- Guest

    ...was arrested on Tuesday on charges of possessing stolen goods and destroying art.

    Destroying art is a crime in France?
    What about reciting lame poetry? is that illegal?
  5. NATO

    NATO Guest

    $1.4 billion. ha ha props.