Dutch authorities have linked a suspect to two major art thefts that took place during the early days of lockdown last spring.
The police announced on Tuesday morning that they had arrested a 58-year-old man on suspicion of stealing both Vincent Van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring (1884) and Frans Hals’s Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer from two museums in the Netherlands.
The suspect, who has not been named by police, was arrested at his home in the town of Baarn, near Hilversum in the Netherlands. Neither painting has been recovered.
The first crime was committed around 3:15 a.m. on the morning of March 30, when a theft arrived at the Singer Laren Museum, smashed through reinforced glass doors with a sledgehammer, grabbed the Van Gogh canvas, and fled into the night on a motorcycle. The robbery was captured on security videos, released via a Dutch crime show in late April.
The image that has been circulating of Van Gogh’s stolen The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring (1884). Image courtesy Arthur Brand.
A few months later, in June, art detective Arthur Brand caught wind of a “proof of life” photograph circulating in the criminal underworld. It showed the front page of the New York Times, the back of the Van Gogh painting, and a biography of infamous art thief Octave Durham, titled Meesterdief (Masterthief).
Durham went to prison for stealing two other paintings by Van Gogh, and the inclusion of his biography in the hostage-like photograph bolstered law enforcement’s belief that the Singer Laren thief was a copycat.
The Van Gogh painting was on loan to the Singer Laren Museum from the Groninger Museum for a temporary exhibition, and was the only Van Gogh in the Groninger’s collection.
Frans Hals, Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer (c.1626). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
“Compliments to the police for their detective work. No robbery should go unpunished,” said Evert van Os, the managing director of the Singer Laren museum, in a statement. Although the painting itself remains missing, “everyday we hope to receive good news,” van Os says, “so that visitors to the Groninger Museum are able to enjoy this fabulous artwork again.”
The second robbery, of a Frans Hals painting valued at $17 million, stolen from the small Hofje van Aerden museum near Utrecht, was another nighttime theft. Thieves made off with the painting on August 27, 2020, at around 3:30 a.m. after forcing open a back door.
The jovial picture is a popular target for thieves: it had been stolen once in 1988 and again in 2011. Police are hoping it will be recovered for a third time.
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