Dutch police this week recovered a Van Gogh painting stolen three years ago, thanks to a tip from an “art detective” who returned the painting in an Ikea bag.
“The Groninger Museum is extremely happy and relieved that the work is returning,” its director, Andreas Blim, said in a statement after the painting was recovered by police on Tuesday. “We are very grateful to everyone who contributed to this good result.”
Vincent van Gogh’s “Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring” was lost in March 2020 during a night strike at the Singer Laren Museum in Amsterdam, where the painting was hanging while on loan from the Groninger Museum.
Arthur Brandt, a Dutch art professor turned “art detective” who has successfully recovered a number of stolen works, played a “thief role” in recovering the work, which Brandt noted had been stolen on Van Gogh’s birthday .
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Brand’s social media video showed him bringing the painting back to his apartment in an Ikea bag, with the work itself wrapped multiple times in bubble wrap and soft packaging. The 10-by-22-inch oil on paper painting shows a person standing in a garden surrounded by trees with a church tower in the background.
Security footage from the museum showed a man in a thick coat and ski mask walking through the back rooms of the museum carrying the painting and another wrapped work. Brand then received photographs of the painting just months later as “proof of life” evidence that the work remained intact.
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Brand said the photos had been circulated in Mafia circles. The photos featured the painting alongside a book about a thief who stole two Van Gogh paintings from an Amsterdam museum and a May 2020 copy of the New York Times discussing the thief’s own heist that year.
Dutch police in 2021 then arrested a 58-year-old man, later identified only as Nils M, on suspicion of stealing paintings, including a Van Gogh, worth about $22.4 million, ABC News reported. Police called the arrest a “significant step” in the investigation, as they have not recovered the paintings Nils had stolen.
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In a statement, police noted that artworks can serve as collateral for organized crime and had intercepted messages that gave a “good picture” of criminal trade “in these kinds of valuable objects.”
The Groninger Museum declined to elaborate on how it eventually recovered the painting, but promised that the work would be hanging in its galleries soon, although that may not happen for a few months as the painting was still “suffering” and when the museum assured that the work is “still in good condition”.
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The painting’s return also raises an ownership quirk, since an insurance company had already paid for the loss and now owns the work. The Groninger Museum insisted that it would have the right of first purchase for the work.
A person found guilty of art theft in the Netherlands can serve up to eight years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.