Stolen Van Gogh Back at Dutch Museum After Being Anonymously Returned

The 1884 painting by a young Vincent van Gogh that was stolen during a dramatic late-night smash-and-grab from a Netherlands museum will go on public display in March for the first time since it was taken three years ago, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, bearing a deep white scratch from the theft on the bottom of the canvas, was shown at a press conference at the Groninger Museum this week. The picture was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands on March 30, 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic prompted stores, galleries, and museums to shut their doors to the public. 

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For years, the paintings whereabouts were unknown despite the fact that the person who stole it, nicknamed “Nils M” by the Dutch media, and the criminal who allegedly planned the theft, Peter Roy K, had already been arrested and were serving prison sentences. 

Arthur Brand, the art detective who made his name recovering a range of treasure that include a Picasso painting and a ring owned by Oscar Wilde, retrieved the work late last year, albeit not through any sleuthing of his own.

As Brand tells it, he heard on a knock on his door late one evening last year. An unidentified man passed Brand a crumpled blue IKEA bag then sped off. The meeting had been prearranged and the police alerted, but Brand said still he ran up the stairs of his apartment in Amsterdam and excitedly opened the delivery. Inside, swaddled in bubble wrap, was the Van Gogh. Brand had a colleague film the unboxing, then compared the back of the work to a “proof of life” photograph he had been sent.

“It’s him,” Brand said. “Vincent van Gogh is back. What a day.”

According to Brand, the painting was likely passed back and forth throughout the criminal underground, with no one person wanting to sell or fence it because, with a value between €3 million and €6 million (around $3.5 million-$6.5 million), the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

“We knew that the painting would go from one hand to another hand in the criminal world, but that nobody really wanted to touch it because it wasn’t worth anything,” Brand told The Guardian. “You could only get in trouble. So it was a little bit cursed.”

The picture’s restorer at the Rotterdam Museum, Marjan de Visser, told The Guardian that the scratch in the canvass is “severe” and “goes through all the layers, the varnish, the paint layers and then into the ground layer.” 

Dust, and dirt have been removed from the canvass and de Visser is researching previous restorations and the original materials used so as to properly restore the painting. 

The painting will be available for public view starting on March 29 at the Groninger Museum in the Northern Netherlands.

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