Thieves Purloin a Frans Hals Painting Valued at $17 Million From a Dutch Museum—for the Third Time

The Dutch Golden Age painting of two boys laughing over beers was stolen from the Hofje van Aerden museum in 1988—and again in 2011.

Thieves made off with a valuable painting by Dutch master Frans Hals from a small museum near Utrecht in the cover of night on Wednesday. The painting, Two Laughing Boys With a Mug of Beer, appears to be a favorite among criminals: it had already been stolen twice prior to this incident.

According to a statement from Netherlands police, thieves entered the Hofje van Aerden museum by forcing open the back door on August 27, setting off an alarm. But by the time officers arrived on the scene, at around 3:30 a.m., they had disappeared—and taken Two Laughing Boys with them.

A representative for the museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Police say they are consulting with forensic specialists and art-theft experts to examine the scene. They have also appealed to the public for any information and are reviewing CCTV footage.

Sjors Fröhlich, the mayor of the municipality where the museum is located, said in a statement to the Guardian that he regretted the news and hoped the painting would be recovered soon.

There is precedent for such a recovery. The painting was first stolen in 1988, alongside Jacob van Ruisdael’s Forest View with Flowering Elderberry; they were returned after three years. In 2011, the same paintings were stolen again and recovered after six months.

According to Dutch media, the museum enhanced security after the second theft, only permitting visitors to view the Hals and other valuable works in its collection under supervision. The Hofje van Aerden museum is currently closed to the public due to health precautions.

The Guardian estimated the painting’s value at £13 million ($17.1 million). This would put its worth considerably above Hals’s pubic auction record, which comes in at $14 million, set in 2008 for a portrait of Willem van Heythuysen.

A characteristic Hals painting of rosy-cheeked figures delighting over a drink, Two Laughing Boys With a Mug of Beer is also believed by some scholars to be part of a series in which the artist explored the five senses. This one would have represented sight, as the subject peers into his mug and his companion looks over his shoulder.

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