Inside the Hunt for the World’s Most Prolific Art Thief
Stephane Breitwieser is believed to have stolen hundreds of artifacts, worth a total of $2 billion
BY RALPH JONES
Get lost in the suspense of “The Art Thief.”
From the moment he read about him, Michael Finkel knew he wanted to tell Stephane Breitwieser’s story. He remembers looking at newspapers and small websites, wishing to learn French at the time, discovering the Frenchman’s story and becoming hooked. Breitwieser, currently serving a seven-year prison sentence, is the most prolific art thief in the history of the world.
Three things about Breitwieser intrigued Finkel: the insane quantity of his conquests, the fact that the thief never hurt anyone during his crimes and that he professed to steal art not for money but for love. “Whose heart doesn’t melt a little bit right there?” Finkel says over Zoom.
It’s impossible, a French journalist friend warned him. Breitwieser doesn’t talk to the press. This simply solidified Finkel’s resolve. “Game on,” he said to himself. Breitwieser became the author’s inspiration to learn French as quickly as possible. He wrote letters to the thief, beginning in 2012, and moved to France. It was years before Breitwieser returned Finkel’s letters, but when he did, the pair spoke at such length that Finkel was able to write a book about the man. Breitwieser’s story is so extraordinary that, Finkel tells me, he has sold the movie rights and is fantasizing about Timothee Chalamet playing the lead.