At Large  April 29, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Security Footage Offers Clues in Van Gogh Heist

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Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, 1884.

When a small Dutch museum reported that a precious Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen from their galleries in a raid overnight, authorities were left scrambling for clues. Now the Singer Laren museum, located in Laren, a wealthy suburb east of Amsterdam, has released crime scene footage, hoping that it will lead to more information about the theft.

At 3:15 a.m. on March 30, working under the cover of darkness, a thief smashed a glass door and entered the empty museum. Like nearly all museums and art institutions, the Singer Laren has been closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Though police responded quickly, the culprit had already vanished, taking the Van Gogh with them.

The newly released security camera footage shows just how quickly and efficiently the thief worked. A single masked culprit arrives on motorcycle, makes quick work of two glass doors, nabs the Van Gogh from the gallery wall, and spirits it away, all in a matter of minutes. Video of the moment the painting is taken off the wall has been withheld so far. Police are asking the public to share any photos or videos they may have taken of the museum in the days leading up to the theft. They hope the images will reveal someone casing the museum.

Police are continuing to ask the public for any information that might help them track down the thieves and recover the pilfered painting. Authorities remain optimistic that the painting hasn't gone far. Often stolen treasures quickly enter the black market, where they are sold off to wealthy oligarchs or Saudi princes, who have immense wealth and no qualms about breaking the law. But with the world on pause because of COVID-19, the black market is inhibited: Dutch borders are closed, and police are regularly stopping cars to ensure that citizens are only leaving their homes for necessities.

While police work to track down the guilty party or parties, the small museum is left broken-hearted. “I am shocked and unbelievably pissed off,” Singer Laren’s director, Jan Rudolph de Lorn, said in a news conference after the robbery. “Art is there to be seen and shared by all, for society as a whole, to bring enjoyment, to bring inspiration, and also to bring comfort. Especially in this difficult time.”

The Singer Laren was founded in 1954 by Anna Singer, an artist and the widow of painter William Henry Singer. The American couple fell in love with the Netherlands and settled there after extended stays at the artist colony located in Laren. William Singer was the son of a steel baron who wanted his son to enter the family business rather than pursue art. Defying the odds, the Singers had successful careers and traveled the world making and selling their art.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The museum houses their 3,000-piece collection, which focuses on modernist movements including neo-impressionism, pointillism, expressionism, and cubism.

Van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, from 1884, was on loan from the Groninger Museum, in the northern Netherlands, as part of the traveling exhibition Mirror of the Soul. The painting is the only one by the artist in the museum’s collection. 

From 1883 to 1886, Van Gogh was living with his parents in the northern Dutch city of Nuenen, where his father served as a pastor. This was a prolific two-year period for the artist, who created nearly 200 oil paintings, in addition to drawings and watercolors. Van Gogh’s works from this period include images of quiet village life, such as landscapes and still lifes, using a dark color palette that is very different from the bright swirling colors we usually associate with his work.

wikimedia commons, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885.

The most famous painting from this period is The Potato Eaters, part of his “peasant character studies" series, which is considered to be his first major work. Van Gogh’s brother Theo’s inability to sell paintings made during this time prompted the artist to brighten his canvasses in keeping with Impressionist trends.

The museum and authorities remain hopeful that they will track down The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, which is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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