Rijksmuseum Chief Calls for Return of Thrice-Stolen Frans Hals Ahead of Major Show

The location of the painting has been unknown since its theft in August 2020.

Photo: Rijksmuseum/Albertine Dijkema

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is just days away from throwing open the doors on a major exhibition of work by the 17th-century Dutch master Frans Hals that closed last month at the National Gallery in London.

At the show’s press preview today, Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits made a public plea for the return of a Hals masterpiece, Two Boys Laughing with a Mug of Beer (1626), which was stolen in August 2020 from the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam, the Netherlands.

Will Dibbits’s plea find the ears of a thief with a conscience? The hope is that the publicity might at least shake loose some information about the whereabouts of the painting, which is valued at around $16 million.

Astonishingly, the picture has been stolen twice before, in 1988 and 2011, and recovered, as Artnet reported in 2020.

In the most recent case, thieves entered the Leerdam museum by forcing open a back door, setting off an alarm. By the time officers arrived on the scene, at around 3:30 a.m., the bandits had disappeared—and taken Two Laughing Boys with them.

Photo: Rijksmuseum/Albertine Dijkema

Photo: Rijksmuseum/Albertine Dijkema

Dibbets noted that Hals typically painted group portraits or individuals, whereas the missing work shows two boys interacting, according to a report in the Guardian. “That is something we would love to show and I really hope this painting will be rediscovered,” he said, according to the report. “This is a painting that belongs to us all.”

A Vincent van Gogh painting believed to have been stolen by the same thieves, from the Singer Laren Museum, was recovered last year, but there is no sign of the Hals.

The Rijksmuseum show opens Friday with 50 works, including some that are not part of other versions of the show, which will travel to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin later this year. Those special inclusions include a large group portrait, Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company (1616), which has never before been loaned by the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. It was borrowed in this case thanks to a special dispensation from the city’s mayor.  Security at the show will no doubt be tight.

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