Netflix’s ‘Vjeran Tomic: The Spider-Man of Paris’ sheds light on the notorious and high-profile incident involving the theft of five paintings from the Paris Museum of Modern Art back in 2010. This case garnered significant media attention during that period, and Vjeran Tomic has remained a figure of great intrigue over the years. The documentary includes an exclusive interview with the burglar himself, allowing viewers to delve into his personal story. If you’re keen on learning more about his journey, we have all the intricate details waiting for your exploration. Shall we begin?
Who is Vjeran Tomic?
Born in Paris in 1968 to parents of Bosnian-Croatian descent, Tomic’s early life took a unique turn. His mother’s health struggles stemming from a car accident led to his relocation to Bosnia to live with his grandparents when he was just one year old. Remarkably, Tomic’s penchant for theft seemed to have been ingrained in him from a young age. At the tender age of 8, he boldly entered a library and pilfered two ancient books, their ages dating back centuries but ended up returning them. Nevertheless, he never viewed his actions with a sense of gravity or disturbance. He returned to Paris when he was 11 years old.
Life in Paris was far from easy for Tomic. His parents’ constant discord and neglect left him feeling emotionally adrift. His father’s physical abuse only exacerbated the situation, leaving Tomic with the sense that he had to fend for himself. His teenage interest in painting was also dismissed by his father. This challenging environment paved the way for what some might label a “delinquent” existence. He had already started picking locks and breaking into people’s homes to steal. He said that he had taken from Parisian luminaries, including the French-Caribbean singer Henri Salvador and the Egyptian royal family. When he turned 18, he joined the army and that is where he learned to climb walls with ease.
After his military service ended, he went back to a life of crimes as it was easy money. His ambition was to amass wealth quickly, driven by a longing for financial security. He always operated in solitude, and his primary objective was to secure jewelry and money, as these possessions were not only valuable but also easily liquidated. This path led him to target affluent and upper-class neighborhoods. Tomic’s remarkable ability to scale walls proved invaluable as he ventured into breaking on the upper floors of buildings, raiding people’s homes, and helping himself to whatever he deemed valuable. Interestingly, he earned a reputation as a gentleman burglar, never resorting to violence or threats against his victims.
Gradually, Tomic expanded his repertoire to include art theft, and he soon found himself appropriating valuable paintings as well. In 1999, his criminal exploits caught up with him, resulting in his arrest. However, he was released shortly thereafter. The French media dubbed him “Spiderman” and reported on his use of crossbows and hooks to gain entry into apartments, where he stealthily pilfered two Renoirs, a Derain, a Utrillo, a Braque, and several other works of art, all while the unsuspecting homeowners peacefully slept.
In 2004, Tomic crossed paths with Jean-Michel Corvez, an antique shop owner specializing in art resale. They worked together for several years and Tomic claims that he sold Corvez contraband worth 90,000 euros. Corvez presented Tomic with a list of artworks he desired, offering substantial rewards for their acquisition. As they delved into the possibilities, they realized that infiltrating the Museum of Modern Art was an attainable goal as the security alarm inside the building was not working. Corvez expressed his desire to acquire Fernand Léger’s 1922 masterpiece, “Quiet Life From the Candle.”
Tomic set his plan in motion, meticulously working his way into the museum. After six days of careful preparation, which included focusing on a specific window, he successfully executed the break-in during the late hours of May 20, 2010. He was able to take the Léger painting off the wall and he began staring at Matisse’s “Pastoral,” a Fauvist canvas from 1905. Recalling the moment, Tomic said, “I saw a deep, vivid landscape. And the little devil playing his flute out of nowhere as if by magic as if he were the guardian of this environment.” He decided to take that off as well. His eyes went to Modigliani’s “Woman with a Fan” and he took that too.
In the haze that Tomic was working in, he ended up taking “Pigeon with Peas,” by Picasso and “Olive Tree Near l’Estaque,” by Braque. He was almost going to take Modigliani’s “Woman with Blue Eyes” but something held him back. He said “When I went to get it off the wall, it told me, ‘If you take me, you will regret it the rest of your life.’ I will never forget what this ‘Woman with Blue Eyes’ did to me. When I touched it, to take it out of its frame . . . the feeling started instantly—a fear that came over me like an iceberg, a freezing fear that made me run away.”
Transporting the stolen painting turned out to be a meticulous operation for Tomic. It required two trips to remove the artwork from the museum and load it onto his Renault, which was discreetly parked along Avenue de New York. He managed to depart without incident and even evaded a police checkpoint, an element of luck in his daring venture. The following morning, Tomic met Corvez on the fourth level of an underground parking garage in Bastille. Corvez’s reaction was mixed, for he was somewhat displeased to discover not just one, but five stolen paintings.
He agreed to take the Léger and the Modigliani but offered to store the other three paintings on Tomic’s behalf. News of the theft had already made headlines, and it was being hailed as the most significant art heist since 1990. Corvez had initially promised Tomic 50,000 euros for each of the stolen paintings but had only paid him 40,000 euros. This delayed payment and potential deviation from their agreement raised suspicions in Tomic’s mind.
A witness, who was skateboarding in the area, had spotted Tomic in the vicinity of the museum and provided a rough description of him to the police. Frustrated by Corvez’s failure to provide the promised payment, Tomic found himself in desperate need of cash. This led him to commit another robbery in May 2011. Following an anonymous tip and the description from the witness, the police managed to apprehend Tomic. He quickly confessed not only to the robbery he had just been caught for but also to his involvement in the Museum of Modern Art heist. However, he allegedly withheld the identities of any accomplices who may have been involved with him.
Where is Vjeran Tomic Now?
Tomic’s trial commenced on January 30, 2017, and was swiftly concluded within two days. He received a substantial eight-year prison sentence for the theft of five paintings valued at 100 million euros. This verdict was not his first brush with the law, as he had previously accumulated 14 convictions related to jewelry and art thefts. Two other individuals, the antique dealer Corvez and Yonathan Birn, a clock dealer who had purchased the Modigliani from Corvez, also faced trial alongside Tomic. The legal consequences for the trio were severe, with Tomic bearing a 200,000 euro fine.
Moreover, they were collectively ordered to repay the full value of the stolen paintings, estimated at 104 million euros, to the city of Paris. Birn claimed to have destroyed and disposed of the stolen paintings, a statement met with skepticism by the prosecution and law enforcement agencies. During his trial, Tomic conveyed his remorse for his criminal actions. He was detained at the Detention Center Les Vignettes. He had met Korine Opiola just a day before his trial began.
A unique connection blossomed, leading her to visit him at the prison every week. Their interactions fostered a deep bond, and eventually, they embarked on a romantic relationship. Tomic’s aspirations now lean towards a simpler life, savoring the pleasures that nature has to offer and relishing his time with Korine, steering clear of the world of crime that had once consumed him.