Dutch police have arrested a 58-year-old man on suspicion of stealing paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals during the 2020 pandemic closures of museums in the Netherlands.
The unnamed man was arrested at his home in Baarns, Netherlands, on Tuesday 6 April. The paintings are yet to be recovered. The Van Gogh is valued at up to £5m, while the Hals could expect to win around £13.4m at auction.
The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was the only work by Van Gogh in the collection of Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, where it had been on display since 1962. It was on temporary loan to the Singer Laren museum when it was stolen at around 3.15am on 30 March 2020 while the museum was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dutch security footage shows that the thief broke through reinforced glass doors with a sledgehammer and then escaped on a motorcycle with the painting.
In June, Dutch art detective Arthur Brand received two “proof of life” photographs from a publicly unidentified source, showing the dated front page of the New York Times, the Van Gogh painting, and a biography of art thief Octave Durham, Meesterdief (Masterthief).
Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer, by Dutch master Frans Hals, was stolen in a second robbery at around 3.30am on 27 August 2020 from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden museum near Utrecht. Thieves stole the painting after forcing entry through a back door.
The piece has proven to be a popular target for art thieves, with the 2020 incident marking the third time it has been stolen, following earlier thefts and subsequent recoveries in 1988 and 2011.
Evert van Os, managing director of the Singer Laren, said of the arrest: “Compliments to the police for their detective work. No burglary should go unpunished.
“Unfortunately, this arrest does not mean that the painting has also been recovered. But I hope that it will soon lead the police to the painting, so that visitors to the Groninger Museum are able to enjoy this fabulous artwork again. It is now a year since the burglary, and every day we hope to receive good news.”
Dutch authorities have stressed that the investigation is not yet over, and anyone with information about the whereabouts of either painting should contact them as soon as possible.