December 8, 2023

A Vincent van Gogh painting – stolen from a museum during an audacious robbery three and a half years ago – has been recovered by an art detective in the Netherlands.

Arthur Brand took possession of the missing painting, the 1884 Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, worth between €3-6 million (£2.5-5.12 million), at his Amsterdam home on Monday, stuffed in a blue IKEA bag.

Mr Brand, dubbed the ‘Indiana Jones of the art world’ for tracing a series of high-profile lost artworks, said that confirming the painting was the stolen Van Gogh was “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

“Arthur Brand, in cooperation with the Dutch police, has solved this matter,” Richard Bronswijk of the Dutch police arts crime unit said. “This is definitely the real one, there’s no doubt about it.”

Mr Brand said that frequent calls by him and the Dutch police to hand back the stolen artwork finally paid off when a man, whose identity was not revealed for his own safety, handed Mr Brand the painting in a blue IKEA bag, covered with bubble-wrap and stuffed in a pillow case.

A video clip supplied by Mr Brand showed him unpacking the painting in his lounge and gasping in astonishment when he realised what it was.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

The painting was burgled from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam on March 30, 2020 in a heist that made headlines around the world.

Dutch police released video images shortly after the burglary showing a thief smashing through a glass door in the middle of the night, before running out with the painting tucked under his right arm.

The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam in 2020

The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was stolen from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam in 2020 – AFP/Arthur Brand

In April 2021, police arrested a man named in Dutch media as Nils M. for the theft. He was later convicted and sentenced to eight years behind bars, and was also convicted for stealing another masterpiece by Frans Hals called Two Laughing Boys in a separate heist.

“After a few months I heard from a source in the criminal world who had bought the Van Gogh,” from Nils M, said Mr Brand, who has gained fame for his remarkable recoveries of stolen art, including the Hitler’s Horses bronze statues, a Picasso painting and a ring that once belonged to Oscar Wilde.

The man, identified by Dutch media as Peter Roy K, was currently behind bars for a separate case involving the large-scale import and export of cocaine, Mr Brand said. Mr K wanted to use the painting as collateral to negotiate a reduction in his sentence. Mr Brand confirmed Peter Roy K.’s identity, stressing he had said before that “no deal for a reduced sentence would be made.”

‘It has caused a massive headache’

The whereabouts of the Van Gogh however remained a mystery until two weeks ago when a mysterious man contacted Mr Brand saying he wanted to return it.

After some negotiation, Mr Brand persuaded the man – who had “nothing to do with the theft”, according to the art detective – to hand back the artwork.

“The man told me ‘I want to return the Van Gogh. It has caused a massive headache’ because it could not be used as a bargaining chip,” Mr Brand said. “In an operation done in close coordination with the Dutch police, we got the painting back,” he added.

The painting, which comes from relatively early on in Van Gogh’s career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist paintings such as Sunflowers and his vivid self-portraits, has already been handed back to the director of the Groninger Museum, from where it was on loan to the Singer Karen museum.

Frans Hals’ Two Laughing Boys remains missing, but Brand said he hoped that painting would also be returned soon.

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