If you have watched “Ocean’s Twelve”, you may be under the impression that a heist is hard work. Remember the scene in which Vincent Cassel, aka the “Night Fox”, prances and somersaults over roving laser beams?
When it comes to art theft, the truth is usually much blander than fiction. A recent book told of how Stéphane Breitwieser, working in broad daylight, managed to lift well over 200 items by targeting museums and auction houses with lax security. Recent reports from the British Museum suggest that an employee pilfered around 2,000 objects. With a collection of 8m items—many of which are not on display, nor catalogued—it took a while for people to notice that the odd gem or bracelet had gone walkabout.
Tales of stolen art are fascinating all the same, partly because a missing painting or sculpture can feel like an affront to the public good. The illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts is also a lucrative criminal enterprise. In that respect, real life can echo the movies. Not for nothing is Arthur Brand, a Dutch investigator who recovers stolen artworks, known as “the Indiana Jones of the art world”.
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