Oops! A Swiss Museum Has Lost Two Old Masters Paintings That It Sent for Cleaning

After an internal investigation, the Kunsthaus Zürich said that “theft can no longer be ruled out.”

Robert van den Hoecke, Soldiers in the camp (mid-17th century). Courtesy of the Kunsthaus Zürich.

One of Switzerland’s largest museums is missing a pair of old master artworks after having them cleaned last year.

In a statement shared this week, the Kunsthaus Zürich reported that two 17th-century paintings—Robert van den Hoecke’s Soldiers in the Camp (no date) and Dirck de Bray’s Daffodils and Other Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Marble Slab (1673)—are currently “untraceable.” An internal search has led the institution to suspect that the artworks may have been stolen rather than misplaced.

“Since theft can no longer be ruled out,” the statement read, “Kunsthaus filed a complaint against unknown persons, and the police asked to start an investigation on January 13.”

The two small, framed pieces were painted on oak and given to the museum via permanent loans from collectors. A spokesperson for the Kunsthaus said that the work by van den Hoecke was estimated to be worth a “medium five-digit sum,” while the de Bray piece’s value is a “six-digit” figure.

Both were among the 700-some artworks that the Kunsthaus Zürich had restored last year following a fire that occurred in the museum on the night of August 2. 

“For generations, collectors have trusted the Kunsthaus with their treasures,” said the institution’s director, Ann Demeester, noting that “almost three-quarters” of the museum’s holdings came through long-term loans or private gifts. 

Dirck de Bray, Daffodils and Other Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Marble Slab (1673). Courtesy of the Kunsthaus Zürich.

“The possibility that, despite great safety precautions, works are currently not to be found [has] shaken us,” the director explained. In addition to locating the absent artworks, Demeester said the museum’s goal is to learn from the incident. 

The Kunsthaus has established a crisis management team to aid in the recovery effort and the two missing paintings have been submitted to the Art Loss Register, an international database of lost and stolen art. 

Meanwhile, the museum has opened its own investigation into the matter.

“Our work does not end with the involvement of the police,” Demeester added. She said that the “Kunsthaus team is in close contact with all those affected” and that “we [will] keep eyes and ears open if the works are still in the house.”

When reached by Artnet News, the representative for the Kunsthaus Zürich said that there were no new updates on the case to report and that all other cleaned artworks were located.


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