I knew a guy who claimed he knew a guy who stole a painting from the Louvre in the early 1970s. This was before the current security systems were installed, and before the tourist hordes clutching copies of the Da Vinci Code had descended on the place. My source claims that as teenagers, he and his friends would go jogging in the museum.
The thief wasÂ a very quiet, nondescript, angry man who frequented the Louvre. He was particularly fond of a certain painting, which he visited at least once a week. The painting (not in the photo) was small, the size of a book (A Vermeer?! My source couldn’t remember); it could be tucked into someoneâ€™s coat and carried out without attracting attention. One day the angry man decided that his weekly visits were not enough. He needed to have the painting by him at all times. So he walked up to a female museum guard and said, â€œWhat would happen if I grabbed a painting and ran out?”
â€œWhat?â€ the guard said, and laughed. Whereupon the man seized the painting and ran out of the Louvre. By the time the stunned guard could react to the theft, he was halfway out of the building. No one stopped him at the exit. He took the painting home and put it in a desk drawer where he could look at it as long and as often as he wanted. He had no intention of selling it; he just wanted to look at it.
The police conducted a search for the missing painting but they had no leads: the guardâ€™s description of the thief applied to half the male population of Paris, and the fences knew nothing of the stolen art. The painting remained in the thiefâ€™s possession for a decade. The decision to return it came as quickly as the decision to take it. He phoned in an anonymous tip to the police and left the painting in a shopping bag on a chair in a crowded cafe. The identity of the thief was never established.
Of course, my source could’ve made up this story.
In the New Yorker, Dutch Master, the story of the man who forged Vermeers, sold one to Hermann Goering, and became a folk hero.