A Vincent van Gogh painting stolen from a Dutch museum in March 2020 was returned on Monday by a tipster, who delivered it encased in Bubble Wrap and tucked in an Ikea bag to the home of a private Dutch art crimes detective.
The detective, Arthur Brand, had been investigating the theft of “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring,” one of van Gogh’s early works, painted in 1884. The painting was stolen while it was part of a temporary exhibition at the Singer Laren Museum, about 20 miles southeast of Amsterdam, where it had been on loan from the Groninger Museum in the northern part of the country.
The exhibit opened in January 2020, but was forced to close two months later as Dutch museums shuttered in response to the pandemic.
Security camera footage of the robbery from March 30, 2020, showed a masked man breaking into the museum, using a sledgehammer to smash through two glass doors and then leaving with the painting under his arm.
The people believed to be involved in the theft have already been arrested and convicted, after the police intercepted their encrypted communications — meaning that they could not have been the ones to physically return the painting, Brand said. Over the last few years, he had already received tips relating to the painting, including photographs of the artwork.
Brand did not reveal the identity of the tipster. But, he added, “everyone is thankful to him. The museum is thankful.” Brand, whom the local media has called “the Indiana Jones of the art world,” said that the person had sent him a message offering the painting in return for anonymity and “no trouble.”
Tipsters often know how to find Brand, who has written books, hosted a television show about finding stolen art and frequently urges people to come forward and return stolen artworks. In 2019, for example, he found a stolen Picasso.
Brand met the tipster at his house. In a video clip on the Dutch national broadcaster NOS, Brand can be seen unwrapping the package and sighing with relief when it turns out to be the real thing.
The painting had been making its way around the criminal circuit, used as a down payment, but had lost virtually all its value, Brand said, because the thieves had been convicted, and anybody possessing it would risk a hefty fine that could go into the millions. Mr. Brand said he had worked together with the Dutch police to find the work.
It was unclear how the painting had reached the individual who had it, and Brand wouldn’t go into details of the relationship.
Evert van Os, the general manager of the Singer Laren museum, said he felt “joy and relief” after the return of the painting in a phone conversation on Tuesday.
He announced the news to his entire staff, and said it had been met with cheering and applause.
“The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring” suffered damage in its time away from the museum, but it’s unclear where the painting has been. After looking at it and admiring the van Gogh in his living room, Brand handed it over to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where it will be restored. There are a few new scratches on the canvas, van Os said.
But, van Os said, it seemed at first glance that the damage could be repaired. After the restoration, the painting is scheduled to return to its original home, the Groninger Museum.