Revisiting The First Great Art Heist Of The New Millennium
Jul 6, 2017
As the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, crowds around the world went wild. It was not only a new year, worthy of all the celebration that entails, but also a new millennium, one that many believed would start in 'Y2K' disaster.
But the crisis was averted, the clocks and computers rolled back to zero with nary a hiccup, and the revelry began in full force in towns like Oxford, England.
While many had been preparing for the evening by stocking up on canned goods and bottled water (just in case), one person in the U.K. had a different idea of preparation.
Sometime after 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day, while fireworks were blasting and revelers carousing in the surrounding streets—a thief successfully carried out his plan to steal Paul Cézanne’s 'View of Auvers-sur-Oise' from the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.
The history of art theft is littered with amateurs who have royally bungled their ill-considered attempts at a get-rich-quick scheme (hint: stealing art is complicated and rarely lucrative), and heists that are successful are often attributed to woefully inadequate security.
But neither of these plot lines applied to the Cézanne-napping. The thief who broke into the Ashmolean on New Year’s Eve carried out a professional, highly planned heist that many have likened to that of The Thomas Crown Affair.
The plan was meticulously executed. Using the construction scaffolding at nearby Oxford University Library, the thief climbed onto the roof and then hopped across several buildings to get to the museum.
The thief then broke through a skylight, lowered a rope into the gallery below, and shimmied their way down.
The real evil genius of the plan was in their next move. As the thief entered the gallery, they activated a smoke canister and, using a fan, spread a fog that obscured the view of the security cameras—one of the reasons the thief has never been identified—and set off the fire alarm.