Art and Crime

Exhibit #1
(Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 2003)

As Colin Powell was addressing the Security Council, a tapestry version of one of the world's greatest anti-war works, Pablo Picasso's Guernica, which usually hangs outside the council chamber, was covered by a blue curtain with United Nations logos. Officials insisted the curtain was there to provide a background for television cameras filming diplomats in the corridor.

Exhibit #2
(Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 2003)

A French waiter has been convicted of stealing 69 paintings and antiques from museums and galleries across Switzerland "out of a pathological love for art". Stephane Breitwieser, 31, was sentenced to four years' jail in the Swiss town of Bulle on Thursday and banned from entering the country for 15 years once he has served his sentence. The pieces stolen in Switzerland represent just a fraction of 239 works of art worth tens of millions of dollars that he has confessed to stealing from small regional galleries in seven European countries. After serving his sentence he will be handed over to authorities in his native France, where he will go on trial a second time and where the authorities will probably try him on behalf of Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands. Most of the stolen paintings were destroyed by his mother, Mireille, 51, who panicked when she heard of his arrest. On hearing what she had done he tried to commit suicide and has not spoken to her since. She was not present in the court. The court was told that Breitwieser acted out of a "compulsive" and "obsessive" love of art and a pathological need to surround himself with oil paintings and antiques. A psychiatrist's evaluation said he was addicted to art objects "just as an alcoholic needs alcohol and an addict needs drugs". The court heard how he became an obsessive collector of archaeological objects as a teenager and progressed to antiques and objets d'art, but turned to crime when he became frustrated at being unable to afford the works he loved. Jean-Marc Sallin, the public prosecutor, said many of the works Breitwieser stole between 1995 and 2001 were "national treasures that were not for sale". Breitwieser defended his acts, saying he was a true connoisseur and only he could really appreciate the works he stole. He cleaned them, often restored them, and once boasted: "The works need me more than I need them". For six years Breitwieser lived his dream, creating a secret world of beauty into which he could retreat. He covered the walls of his two rooms in his mother's house in the village of Eschenzwiller in eastern France with art.