A Stolen Van Gogh Painting Worth $6.5 Million Will Go Back on Display

The early masterpiece, returned in an Ikea bag, was damaged during the theft but is currently being restored to its former glory.

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

An early painting by Vincent van Gogh that was stolen in a late-night museum heist in Amsterdam during the March 2020 lockdown will go back on public display next month at the Groninger Museum. The masterpiece was recovered thanks to the detective work of Dutch art sleuth Arthur Brand, who received it wrapped up in a pillowcase and left in an Ikea bag from an anonymous contact.

The Parsonage garden at Nuenen in Spring (1884) was seized from the Singer Laren Museum at around 3 a.m. on March 30, 2020, a date that also happens to be Van Gogh’s birthday. The burglar had smashed the glass entrance door with a sledgehammer and, though authorities responded to the security alarms and rushed to the scene, they were not quick enough to catch the thief.

The painting had been at Singer Laren on loan from the Groninger Museum, to which it has now been returned. A review of the painting revealed a few new scratches so it is currently undergoing restoration so that the canvas can be returned to its former glory. It is expected to go back on public display on March 29, four years after its initial disappearance.

The first major breakthrough in Brand’s investigation of its theft came in June 2020, after a photograph surfaced showing the missing $6.5 million painting next to an issue of The New York Times. Despite this hostage-style image, it was not likely that the Van Gogh was being held for ransom. Instead it was probably being advertised to a potential buyer on criminal network channels. The image had been circulating among mafia types, according to Brand, and was retrieved thanks to his secret network of contacts.

In 2021, a man known as “Nils M” was arrested in connection with the theft and later found guilty of stealing the painting and another Frans Hals painting from a museum in Leerdam. His DNA had been found at both crime scenes and he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The painting had apparently fallen into the hands of a local crime group who were planning to use it to bargain for shorter prison sentences. It was finally recovered by Brand last fall from an unnamed man who had not been involved in its theft but who volunteered to hand the work over in exchange for complete confidentiality. Brand, who has been called the “Indiana Jones of the art world,” was working in close collaboration with Dutch police.

In October, just one month after securing the lost van Gogh, Brand recovered an impressive six more paintings from a mysterious man in a van. They had been stolen the month before from the town hall of Medemblik in the Netherlands.

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