Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


"Something happened between me and the child. It was like a mirror."
"I was both its guardian and its hostage."
"I had a smile on my face like I never had before. When I got home, there was a moment of euphoria. I let out a big shout. I took photos. I felt like a superman."
"I may sound like a fool, but I would speak to it."
Patrick Vialaneix, Paris, France
Rembrandt - The Child and the Soap Bubble E40
"When he walked into my office he had a suitcase with him, ready to be sent to jail.
"I had to say to him, 'Hold on, the statute of limitations may have come into play'. He hadn't even heard of that concept."
Franck Dupouy, lawyer for Patrick Vialaneix
It's not all that difficult to understand a connection made by an impressionable child with a painting whose subject entrances him, making a lasting memory for him of a young boy in period costume, holding a bubble in his hand, transcendentally haunting him into his adult years, to recall the painting of the boy, a boy with a physical resemblance to his own image in a mirror. He might have imagined himself having lived before, and having been painted by a master.

That young boy that could have been himself in an earlier incarnation hundreds of years ago, could have been the son of one of the most famous artists of all time. Rembrandt van Rijn's painting The Night Watch is considered to be one of the most famous artworks of all time. Painted in 1641-41, hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Rembrandt's country of origin, it is beyond price, unique and treasured. If it were to disappear, it would represent a calamity of immense proportions.

On the other hand, the master's paintings, if and when any come on the market, go for tremendous sums. They are costly acquisitions for any museum, public art gallery or private collector. The young boy who grew into an adult remained fascinated with his memory of having seen Child with a Soap Bubble when he saw it first at age 13 at the time that his mother took him to the museum where it was being exhibited.

He would travel often as he grow up, from his home in nearby St-Raphael to see the painting, gazing at it, in the full melancholy of its presence. Why he had never sought a photograph of the painting, or even a reproduction is inexplicable; to do so might have satisfied his yearning to possess it. Instead when he was 28, working as an alarm systems technician he took advantage of studying the Draguignan museum's security system.

On a Bastille Day holiday he hid in a museum closet awaiting the museum's evacuation of staff. He was aware that the movement detector would give him a mere two seconds to cross the room where the painting hung. Leaping across the dark room, feeling his way along the walls, he reached the painting and the second he unhooked it from the wall the alarm went off. He ran out of the building, placed the Rembrandt in a garbage bag and drove home with the painting on the back seat of his car.

Handout   One of the "selfie" Polaroid pictures Patrick Vialaneix took with the stolen Rembrandt.
Then he exulted in his possession of the treasured 17th-Century Dutch masterpiece. He took a self-portrait of himself standing before the painting. Then he carefully wrapped the painting and hid it under his bed. Soon afterward he married. His possession of the legendary painting gave him great concern for its physical stability, worried about conserving it, even while he was troubled and in great turmoil over its possession.

He moved constantly hoping to find conditions not too dry not too damp, not susceptible to fire to protect and conserve the painting in optimum condition. That was, after all, incumbent upon him as the possessor of a unique and rare -- and for him, psychologically troubling - artwork of amazing provenance. He told no one, keeping the painting well hidden from scrutiny, taking it out to survey it only when he was alone in the house.

He convinced his wife the painting represented a portrait of his dead father as a child. A year ago, becoming seriously ill, he determined to rid himself of the painting. Not return it to the museum where he had taken it from, however, though a friend placed him in touch with an insurance agent who claimed he could aid him in returning he painting to the museum when he could share a possible reward.

Eventually Mr. Vialaneix accepted a cheque cut for $59,000, transferring Child with Soap Bubble to an intermediary, free at last from the responsibility of its presence. Soon afterward press reports wrote of two men arrested attempting to sell the painting. He finally told his wife the truth. Then he saw a lawyer. He took the uncashed cheque to a police station, spoke to the police for hours to convince them he was telling the truth.

He felt empty inside when he surrendered the painting: "I had lost something previous. I had also lost 15 years", he said of the length of time he had kept the painting. If convicted as a suspect who may have conspired to sell a stolen work of art, he will face a maximum jail sentence of ten years. It may help him that the painting is considered by art experts not to be a Rembrandt, after all.

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