An early van Gogh painting worth millions was stolen during a museum heist in 2020 under the cover of COVID lockdowns, but while the thief was arrested, the painting remained at large.
Now, with the help of private art detective Arthur Brand, the painting has returned to the Groniger Museum, after an anonymous person who was able to take possession of the painting left it on Brand’s doorstep in an Ikea bag.
The painting, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, by Vincent van Gogh is from 1884 and painted in oil on paper on panel. It’s one of his earliest surviving works and clearly was made before he developed his iconic style.
DNA evidence left on the broken glass at the Singer Museum in Laren, where the painting was on loan, was used to confirm the burglar’s identity—a Mister “Nils M.” However the painting was still at large, but no one wanted to cash in.
“We knew that the painting would go from one hand to another hand in the criminal world, but that nobody really wanted to touch it,” Brand told the Guardian. “You could only get in trouble. So it was a little bit cursed.”
With Nils M. in prison for several years and harangued with a $9 million fine for the theft, the subsequent profiting off of it would mean exponentially greater penalties if caught.
Smithsonian Magazine reports that Brand has recovered over 200 artworks through his detective work, including two bronze horse sculptures commissioned by Hitler, and works by Picasso, Dali, and even artifacts such as 15th-century Persian poetry manuscripts.
The media has branded him the ‘Indiana Jones’ of the art world, though since his Instagram handle is ‘art detective,’ Sherlock Holmes seems the more apt fictional celebrity comparison.
Apparently, Brand had heard from someone anonymously who could get their hands on the painting and return it, and Brand worked to gain their trust, explain the situation to the authorities, and sanction an unmonitored drop-off.
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“Mr. Brand, I could turn in the van Gogh, but I don’t want to get in trouble,” the person wrote.
The work will be thoroughly investigated in the near future. The painting has suffered, but is, at first glance, still in good condition. It will be scientifically investigated in the coming months.
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