Dutch art detective recovers stolen Vincent van Gogh painting

Van Gogh’s 1884 Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was brazenly taken from a museum during COVID-19 lockdown in a midnight robbery.

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

Arthur Brand, dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the Art World” for locating a series of lost high-profile artworks, said recovering the 19th-century oil painting was “one of the greatest moments of my life”.

“We have incredible good news. The painting ‘Spring Garden’ … is back with the Groninger Museum three and half years after the theft,” the museum said in a statement.

The Dutch police arts crime unit confirmed the 1884 Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring painting, worth 3 to 6 million euros ($3.2-6.4m), had been found.

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

The painting was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam on March 30, 2020. In a video released by police, a suspect was shown smashing through a glass door in the middle of the night before running out with the painting under his right arm.

In April 2021, police arrested a man named Nils for the theft, and he was later convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. He was also convicted of stealing another artwork by Frans Hals, called Two Laughing Boys, in a separate heist.

Brand said he heard “from a source in the criminal world who had bought the van Gogh” from Nils.

That person was identified in Dutch media as Peter Roy K, who is currently behind bars for a separate case involving the large-scale import and export of cocaine, Brand said. Roy wanted to use the famous painting as collateral to negotiate a reduction in his sentence.

Vincent van Gogh's Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring
The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam in 2020 [Arthur Brand/AFP]

‘A massive headache’

But the whereabouts of the painting remained a mystery until two weeks ago when an unnamed man contacted Brand saying he wanted to return it.

After some negotiation, Brand persuaded the man who had “nothing to do with the theft” to hand back the masterpiece.

“The man told me, ‘I want to return the van Gogh. It has caused a massive headache.’ In an operation done in close coordination with the Dutch police, we got the painting back,” he said.

Brand is also responsible for recovering other famous stolen art, including Hitler’s Horses bronze statues, a Picasso painting, and a ring that once belonged to Oscar Wilde.

The painting – which comes from early on in van Gogh’s career before he began his trademark post-impressionist paintings, including Sunflowers – has been handed back to the director of the Groninger Museum, from where it was on loan to the Singer Karen Museum.

The artwork depicts the garden of the rectory at Nuenen, the small Dutch town where van Gogh’s parents lived.

“The painting has suffered but – at first sight – it is in good shape,” the Groninger Museum said.

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