Rembrandt’s Child with Soap Bubble, above, was recently apprehended in France after a 15-year disappearance. Originally taken from two con-men with links to the backroom art world trade, the story of this painting’s disappearance is actual much more fantastic and less ordinary. As ARTNews reports, Frenchmen Patrick Vialaneix was compelled to steal it:
He first saw the Rembrandt, L’enfant à la bulle de savon (Child with soap bubble), at age 13 on a visit with his mother to the municipal museum in Draguignan, France. It reminded him of himself so much that viewing it was “like looking in a mirror,” he said. He became obsessed with the painting, returning over and over to behold its charms.
His fixation escalated until finally, at the age of 28, he decided he had to steal it.
Read the rest of the story on ARTNews to learn how the alarm technician managed to steal it, and how the secret of the stolen painting then poisoned his relationships until he decided to sell it to the two middlemen who the French authorities finally caught. I absolutely understand the urge to want a work of art, perhaps a Rembrandt or a Vermeer for your very own, and if that means hiding a painting under my bed for 15 years, so be it.
But why we would invest any singular painting with such significance is perhaps a strange thing. Copyists were common before the age of mechanical reproduction, and today especially copying has never been easier. But the aura of the original remains intact, even though rationally we might realize that any object is just one of many objects whose physical properties can be reproduced. The latest Radiolab podcast, appropriately titled Things, is worth a listen for an exploration of why we sometimes place intense emotional value on objects. The Radiolab story discusses things in general, not art, and the crux of the discussion on whether its not better to let go, as Patrick Vialaneix finally did, or to hold on as tightly as possible.