Dutch police arrest man over £18m theft of Van Gogh and Hals paintings

Dutch police have arrested a 58-year-old man on suspicion of stealing paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals with an estimated value of £18m during night-time raids on museums in the Netherlands last year.

The unnamed man was arrested on Tuesday morning at his home in the central town of Baarn over the thefts of Van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring and Hals’s Two Laughing Boys.

Police said that despite a search of the man’s home they had not recovered either of the paintings. The Van Gogh is valued at up to £5m while the Hals masterpiece would be expected to fetch £13.4m at auction.

“For months, intensive investigations into the robbery of both paintings were conducted under the leadership of the public prosecution service,” the police said in a statement.

The Van Gogh masterpiece was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam in the early hours of 30 March 2020 during a period in which it had been closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

The theft happened on what would have been the 167th anniversary of the 19th-century painter’s birth, prompting the museum’s director, Jan Rudolph de Lorm, on the day of the crime to tell reporters during a press conference that he had been left “incredibly pissed off”.

The thief had arrived on motorbike before using a sledgehammer to smash through the reinforced glass front door of the museum and fleeing with the 25cm by 57cm oil-on-paper painting tucked under his right arm.

Two months later, the Dutch art detective Arthur Brand received two “proof of life” photos of the Van Gogh alongside a dated front page of the New York Times newspaper.

Brand said at the time that the photographs had been “circulating in mafia circles” and had been handed to him by a source he declined to identify. The photographs obtained by Brand had revealed a new scratch on the bottom of the painting, thought to have been picked up during the raid.

Parsonage Garden was painted relatively early in Van Gogh’s career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist works such as Sunflowers and vivid self-portraits.

Two Laughing Boys by the 17th-century Dutch master Hals was taken in a burglary in August from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden Museum in Leerdam. Thieves had forced the back door building, setting off an alarm. But by the time officers arrived at 3.30am, there was no sign of the perpetrators.

The painting, which features a pair of laughing boys with a mug of beer, was previously stolen from the museum in 2011 and 1988. It was recovered after six months and three years respectively. Hals, who died in 1666, has been described as one of the great portraitists of the Golden Age. One of his most famous paintings is The Laughing Cavalier.

“Both paintings have not yet resurfaced with this arrest. The search continues unabated,” the police said. “This arrest is an important step in the investigation.”

Brand – known as the Indiana Jones of the art world for finding several lost paintings – hailed the news of the arrest. “Another huge success for Dutch police,” he tweeted. “The plot thickens…”


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