Drawn and Quartered is a monthly blog series written by Atelier Co-Founder Marianne Daquet. The series focuses on art history, and aims to foster a love of art in kids and teens through stories about artists and artworks.
How much can you love a piece of art? This is the story of Patrick, a guy who fell in love with a Rembrandt painting at age 13 and stole it 16 years later from his hometown museum in Draguignan (south of France).
In the fall of 1983, Patrick Vialaneix was 13 years old. After a soccer match with his team, his mother, a painter, took him to the local museum. As he entered the second room, next to a Renoir, he stopped in front of the museum’s masterpiece: a Rembrandt painting called Child with Soap Bubble. On it, a chubby child with well-defined lips and a beret stared out at him from the darkness.
“Something happened with this child,” said Patrick.“This painting is like a mirror, I can see myself in this child and I know he is not happy.” He returned to the museum again and again to see the painting, in the process becoming fascinated by Rembrandt’s life. In 1999, this fascination became a burning desire.
By then 28, Patrick was a technician specializing in alarms. He started taking advantage of his visits to the museum to study its security system.
The day before French National Day, he got himself locked in the museum by worming his way inside a large closet, the shelve tipped over, he found himself upside down and waited without moving, in the stifling heat, for five hours. When the museum’s director left for the day, Patrick exited his hiding spot. Like James Bond, he avoided the motion sensors and took down “his” painting from the wall and ran away during the helicopter show performed for the National day.
Once back home, he had a moment of euphoria and even took selfies with the Rembrandt. But then, the nightmare began. “I had the painting in my hands. It was like a rebirth and then, slowly it consumed me,” he said.
A few months after the robbery, he met his future spouse. They lived together for a time, but he pressured her into moving to another house, as he was stressed about the painting’s storage conditions.“The painting came to take control of my life,” he explained. “I was responsible for it; I couldn’t hurt it.”
He would move three more times, secretly guided by the well-being of the painting. Patrick became paranoid after the theft of his sound system at his home. He stopped working and almost went crazy when the painting’s pigments started to oxidize in a particularly damp house. Patrick moved to a house near the forest, where he panicked at the fire hazard. He got seriously sick and began to think that he should get rid of the canvas.
By chance, he met an old friend who had what we would call guanxi. For the first time in years, he broke his silence and confided in him. His friend put him in touch with some shady people who gave him EUR 40,000 for the painting, but Patrick didn’t ask any questions. He went home.
A few days later, he read in the newspaper that a Rembrandt canvas missing for 15 was recovered when criminals were caught trying to sell it. Patrick called his wife and confessed his secret life. He called a lawyer, persuaded he would spend many years in jail.
However, no charges were brought against him because the theft was so long ago. Patrick recovered from his years of bad health and anxiety attacks. The painting was returned to the museum and the nightmare stopped.
After the reappearance of the painting, experts doubted its authenticity. But finally in March, it was certified as a genuine Rembrandt.
Take ten minutes to think about the artworks that you’ve seen. Identify the one that you liked the most, print it out on a good-quality paper, look at it, and try to understand why this particularly work touched you. Take your time making sense of your profound relationship to this work, and pick five words to describe this relationship.
Each member of your family can then ask themselves the same question. Take turns introducing your favorite piece of art to each other and explain your choice using the five words. You might discover a whole new world through your family’s answers.
Marianne Daquet is the co-founder of Atelier, an art school in Sanlitun that offers classes for kids, teens, and adults. A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, she has exhibited in France, Beijing, and New York, and her drawings have been published in numerous international magazines. Daquet has lived in Beijing since 2006 and started Atelier with photographer Anaïs Martane after she became mother to two girls.
Photo courtesy of Marianne Daquet