The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession
The Art Thieflooks into the mind of one of the most successful art thieves in history. It’s a terrific psychological study of a true aesthete, and a look into how he was found and how laws changed after him. A fascinating, compelling tale!
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • One of the most remarkable true-crime narratives of the twenty-first century: the story of the world’s most prolific art thief, Stéphane Breitwieser. • “The Art Thief, like its title character, has confidence, élan, and a great sense of timing."—The New Yorker
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Lit Hub
"Enthralling." —The Wall Street Journal
In this spellbinding portrait of obsession and flawed genius, the best-selling author of The Stranger in the Woods brings us into Breitwieser’s strange world—unlike most thieves, he never stole for money, keeping all his treasures in a single room where he could admire them.
For centuries, works of art have been stolen in countless ways from all over the world, but no one has been quite as successful at it as the master thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Carrying out more than two hundred heists over nearly eight years—in museums and cathedrals all over Europe—Breitwieser, along with his girlfriend who worked as his lookout, stole more than three hundred objects, until it all fell apart in spectacular fashion.
In The Art Thief, Michael Finkel brings us into Breitwieser’s strange and fascinating world. Unlike most thieves, Breitwieser never stole for money. Instead, he displayed all his treasures in a pair of secret rooms where he could admire them to his heart’s content. Possessed of a remarkable athleticism and an innate ability to circumvent practically any security system, Breitwieser managed to pull off a breathtaking number of audacious thefts. Yet these strange talents bred a growing disregard for risk and an addict’s need to score, leading Breitwieser to ignore his girlfriend’s pleas to stop—until one final act of hubris brought everything crashing down.
This is a riveting story of art, crime, love, and an insatiable hunger to possess beauty at any cost.
Praise for The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession
ONE OF INDIGO'S TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2023
ONE OF THE WASHINGTON POST'S BEST BOOKS OF 2023
ONE OF AMAZON'S TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2023
“The Art Thief, like its title character, has confidence, élan, and a great sense of timing. It is propelled by suspense and surprises....This ultra-lucrative, odds-defying crime streak is wonderfully narrated by Finkel, in a tale whose trajectory is less rise and fall than crazy and crazier....Part of what makes Finkel’s book so much fun is that, without exception, [Breitwieser’s] strategies are insane."
—Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker
"A mesmerizing true-crime psychological thriller....The Art Thief develops the tension of a French policier, where the crook (for whom you alternately feel sympathy and disgust) has Maigret or Poirot hot on his trail. The final outcome is a shock. Mr. Finkel tells an enthralling story. From start to finish, this book is hard to put down."
—Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal
"Enthralling...In animated and colorful prose, Finkel summons the emotional intensity of a murder mystery. But old masters, not bodies, are missing....The Art Thief is about heists, yes, but it also speaks to much more."
—Brandon Tensley, The Washington Post
“Exhilarating…Finkel’s narrative thrills and electrifies, until it all barrels toward inevitable capture, two shocking betrayals, and an astonishing conclusion.”
—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
“Thrilling…Finkel deftly unspools the story of Breitwieser’s improbable years-long adventure.”
—Geoffrey Gagnon, GQ
"Meticulously detailed, [a] page-turning account....As much a crime caper as a psychological thriller, Finkel’s narrative interweaves gripping descriptions of Breitweiser’s in-plain-sight thefts armed with nothing more than stealth and a Swiss Army knife, a concise history of global art theft, and psychologists’ musings on Breitwieser’s unconscious motivations....Finkel deftly keeps us swaying between great sympathy for his central character and profound suspicion."
—Jenny McPhee, Air Mail
“It is romantic to liken art thieves to Pierce Brosnan’s glamorous character in The Thomas Crown Affair. The reality is far less charming. Case in point: Stéphane Breitwieser, one of the most successful art thieves of all time. From roughly 1994 to 2001, Breitwieser executed more than 200 heists. The book’s first lesson? Europe has a lot of understaffed historic buildings. The second? Even a kleptomaniac with delusions of grandeur can be made mildly sympathetic in the hands of a skilled writer.”
—James Tarmy, Bloomberg
"The Art Thief benefits from a built-in ticking clock as time runs out for Breitwieser and his girlfriend. Finkel controls the pace effortlessly, broadening and narrowing focus from the day-to-day of the thieves to the intricate plotting of their thefts and a history of art crime, as well as who steals and why. That combined with mounting dread for the artworks' fate makes for a heart-pounding read.”
—Maren Longbella, Star Tribune
"Finkel turns his extensive research and interviews into a suspenseful story that reads like a novel. He relates Breitwieser’s technique in vivid detail, and then shows us what happened to an estimated $2 billion worth of paintings, sculptures and other works. Finkel explores the relationships between Breitwieser and the women in his life, along with interesting bits of art history. A true-crime thriller that’s a work of art."
—Suzanne Perez, KMUW Wichita
"Finkel has crafted The Art Thief with finesse and élan. He tells his tale of obsessive desires and ornate objects in measured and unadorned prose; employs a supple structure that separates the multiple threads of the tale while also exploring their weave; and advances the linear plot with narrative strategies that not only anticipate its foregone conclusion without giving it away, but also incorporate into the unfolding events his retrospective analyses of them....[Finkel] manages point of view with deftness and purpose....The Art Thief...morphs from an entertaining caper story into a claustrophobic study in pathology...An absorbing but disquieting read."
—Charles Caramello, Washington Independent Review of Books
“This is an absorbing and astonishing portrait of a fascinating and complicated character—a riveting story of obsession and misplaced brilliance.”
—Kirk Wallace Johnson, best-selling author of The Feather Thief and The Fishermen and the Dragon
"In this masterful true crime account, Finkel traces the fascinating exploits of Stéphane Breitwieser, a French art thief who stole more than 200 artworks...turning his mother’s attic into a glittering trove of oil paintings, silver vessels, and antique weaponry....Drawing on art theory and Breitwieser’s psychology reports, Finkel speculates on his subject’s addiction to beauty....It’s a riveting ride."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"The tale of a strong candidate for the title of 'most prolific art thief ever....' Finkel’s play-by-play of each theft has the pacing and atmosphere of a good suspense tale....The author describes each acquisition as well as Breitwieser's simple but effective methods....Finkel’s extensive research, survey of art history, and hours of interviews with his subject combine for a compelling read."
"A riveting ride....An engrossing true crime narrative....Obsessive crime, dangerous beauty, ill-fated love: The Art Thief is the stuff of noir fiction, made all the more compelling and audacious for its authenticity."
"From the opening chapter, Finkel’s tight prose heightens the drama of each theft, as Breitweiser and his girlfriend Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, who serves as his lookout, enter Belgium’s Rubens House amid visitors and guards....A fascinating read. Finkel will have art history and true crime lovers obsessively turning the pages of this suspenseful, smartly written work until its shocking conclusion."
"The Art Thief is both comprehensive and completely absorbing. It will have you wondering, as judges and juries did, if the defendant is a career criminal or simply an aesthete."
—Lorraine W. Shanley, BookReporter