A Serial Art Thief Has Been Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Stealing a Van Gogh and Frans Hals Worth a Combined $20 Million

Neither painting has been recovered, a factor that played into judges' decision to give the maximum sentence.

Security footage of the theft at the Singer Laren Museum in March of 2020.

A Dutch man has been found guilty of stealing pricey paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals on separate occasions last year. 

Referring to him as an “incorrigible and calculating criminal,” a panel of three judges in a Central Netherlands court sentenced the accused to a maximum term of eight years in prison. The suspect, a 59-year-old man from Baarn, was named only as Nils M. in the ruling, per the country’s privacy laws.

The man was convicted of taking both Van Gogh’s 1884 painting The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring from the Singer Laren Museum in March of 2020, and Hals’s 1626 canvas Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer from the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in August. Neither painting has been recovered. 

“These paintings are part of the national cultural heritage. They are part of our past and are of great importance to present and future generations so that they can learn about that past,” the judges wrote in their ruling. “With [their] removal, the defendant not only disadvantaged the relevant museums for enormous amounts, but also society. 

“After all,” the verdict went on, “the paintings are still missing. The suspect was not concerned about this and apparently only had an eye for his own material interests.”

The suspect’s lawyer did not respond to Artnet News’s request for comment, but told the New York Times that he plans to appeal the ruling.

Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring(1884) ©Groninger Museum.

Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring (1884). © Groninger Museum.

Insured for €2.5 million ($2.9 million), Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden painting was on loan from the Groninger Museum when it was stolen from the institution in Laren at roughly 3 a.m. Security footage revealed that the thief used a sledgehammer to enter through a pair of glass doors and then left the same way minutes later with the canvas under his arm. The artwork’s frame was found discarded in the parking lot.

Force was used to break open the back door of the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam five months later, again around 3 a.m. Police discovered a tension strap attached to a pole outside the building, suggesting that the thief used it to lower the painting—or himself—down from an upper floor. In court filings, the museum valued the Hals painting at €16 million ($18.7 million).

On both occasions, the robber relied on a second person to ferry him away from the scene by scooter. An accomplice has not yet been identified. 

DNA evidence found at both crime scenes pointed to the 59-year-old convict, who was picked up by police in April of this year. Drugs and firearms were found at the suspect’s home in Baarn, for which he was also charged. 

In their decision, the judges pointed to an earlier crime for which the unnamed thief had been convicted. In 2012, he stole a 17th-century monstrance from a museum in Gouda, using explosives to enter the building at night.

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