In March 2020, a hooded man broke into the front door of the Singer museum in central Netherlands and came out shortly after with a painting by Van Gogh titled Spring garden, the parsonage of Nuenen in spring (1884) under the arm. In August of that same year, another similar robbery, this time forcing the back door of the Leerdam museum, located to the west, resulted in the loss of Two smiling guys with a mug of beer (1626), an artwork of Frans Hals. It was the third time this piece had fallen into the hands of thieves in the last two decades. Both rooms were closed due to the pandemic and the alarms worked, but the paintings remain unaccounted for. The arrest of a 58-year-old man by Dutch police on Thursday may pave the way for his recovery. Valued at about 5 and 13 million euros, respectively, investigators suspect that the detainee is the author of the two assaults.
The arrest took place in the Dutch city of Baarn, located in the province of Utrecht, and was announced by the local police on their Twitter account. “The paintings are still missing. Do you know something and haven’t shared it with us yet? Please call these numbers ”, says an agent in the video included in the message.
On video, images from the security cameras of the Singer Laren museum in which the theft of the painting is observed.
Arthur Brand, known as the art detective, last year received some photos of the vangogh as “proof of life”. A graphic testimony used in these crime circles to show that it had not been destroyed. It came to him through third parties and he was able to verify that there was a friction in the lower part. In his personal Twitter account, he presents the photo of the painting received a year ago, a composition prepared in detail by the alleged thieves. Next to the Van Gogh painting, shown in front and behind, was a recent copy of the newspaper The New York Times and a book about Octave Durham, one of the best known thieves in the Netherlands, now retired and without accounts with the justice. According to Brand, the subject arrested by the police may be a professional because he executed the robberies with ease. “I think he took the vangogh on their own, without prior orders, to be sold later in the mafia circuit that uses art as collateral in case they are arrested: they offer the pieces in exchange for a reduction in sentence, ”he explains, in a telephone conversation. This expert, who always informs the police of his steps, maintains that the thief sold him for about 150,000 euros to a criminal. “The latter did the same later for about 400,000 euros. In his case, the buyer was a drug dealer who is in jail today, but he does not say where he is ”.
Video from security cameras
Brand congratulates the agents for the arrest and presumes that Frans Hals cannot find a way out because the police in the Netherlands, France and Belgium managed to decipher part of the encrypted messages from various criminal groups in 2020, and moving the painting would be risky for everyone: thieves and customers. The Dutch police, who have investigated the case thoroughly for months, are silent and refer to the request for information, since the detainee is formally suspected of the robberies.
The Spring garden, the parsonage of Nuenen in spring it was hanging in the Singer museum and was a loan from another room, the Groninger museum, which had only this work of the painter in its collection. In the video of the assault, captured by internal security cameras, the thief can be seen leaving the center through the area of the souvenir shop with the painting. A moment earlier, on the street, other cameras filmed a man – presumably the thief – on board a motorcycle who then broke the glass door at the entrance. The alarm went off and the security circuits were in order and up to date, although the subject had escaped when the police arrived. Nuenen is the town where the painter’s father, who was a Protestant pastor, had his parish. The work is dated to the time he spent there with his family.
When Two smiling guys with a mug of beer (1626) disappeared from a museum in the town of Leerdam, it was learned that it was the third time something like this had happened. In 1998 and 2011 they took it too, but it appeared after a few months. As in the case of vangogh, the museum was closed due to the coronavirus and agents came as soon as the alarm sounded. The back door had been forced open and the loot could not be located. The protagonists of the painting are two young people laughing with their mouths open, a rare detail at the time. The closed mouth or the austere expression symbolized power, but Hals added smiling children and youth to his works.