Notorious ‘Spider-Man’ Art Thief Goes on Trial for $107 Million Heist

He stole works by Picasso, Modigliani, Léger, Matisse, and Braque.

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman with a Fan (1919), was one of the five works stolen in 2010 from the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Amedeo Modigliani, Woman with a Fan (detail) (1919), was one of the five works stolen in 2010 from the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A trial begins today for an art thief nicknamed “Spider-Man” for his climbing skills, who stole five paintings worth at least €100 million (about $107 million) from the Modern Art Museum in Paris in May 2010. He faces 14 charges, while two accomplices are charged with handling of stolen goods.

When the 49-year-old Vjeran Tomic was arrested one year after the theft, he told police he had broken into the museum—cutting through a locked gate, removing a window, and smashing a security camera along the way—in order to steal one specific work by Ferdand Léger, the 1922 Still Life With Candlestick.

But at the time of the theft, the museum’s alarms were not functioning, and three security guards didn’t notice the burglar. After nabbing the Léger, Tomic, a self-described “veritable art lover,” allegedly took himself on a private tour of the museum, cutting four more paintings out of their frames. He made off quietly with Dove with Green Peas by Pablo Picasso (1911), Pastoral by Henri Matisse (1906), Olive Tree near l’Estaque by Georges Braque (1906), and Woman with Fan by Amedeo Modigliani (1919).

Policemen stand by painting frames outside the Paris' Musee d'Art Moderne (Paris modern art museum) where five works including paintings by modern masters Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were stolen on May 20, 2010. Photo courtesy BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images.

Policemen stand by the empty frames of stolen painting outside the Paris Musee d’Art Moderne. Photo courtesy BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images.

Police value the works at a total of $107 million, but as The Guardian reports, art experts have valued them at as high as twice that number. AFP reported at the time of the heist that they were worth a total of around $635 million.

Two accomplices were also arrested in connection with the theft, one of which, a 34-year-old watchmaker, confessed in 2011 that he “panicked and destroyed the canvasses before throwing them into a rubbish bin” after the first two men, Tomic, and an art dealer who allegedly failed to give the thief an agreed $40,000 for the stolen Léger, were arrested.

Authorities reportedly do not believe the watchmaker, although the paintings have not been recovered.

Tomic is an avid rock climber, and had been given the nickname “Spider-Man” after being caught scaling the side of a Parisian apartment building, and stealing valuable jewelry and artwork from a private home.


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