Stolen Van Gogh Painting Returned in IKEA Bag

A van Gogh painting that was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands in March 2020 has been recovered at last. Missing for three and a half years, “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring” (1884), also referred to as “Spring Garden,” was confidentially handed off to Dutch art detective Arthur Brand in an IKEA bag yesterday, September 11, after multiple calls for return in coordination with the Dutch police’s art crimes unit.

“Spring Garden,” an early-career landscape painting of van Gogh’s prior to the development of his signature Post-Impressionist style, was on loan from the Groninger Museum’s permanent collection at the time of its theft from the Laren institution on March 30, 2020 — what would have been the artist’s 167th birthday. The Singer Laren Museum had been closed to the public due to the Netherlands’s enforced COVID-19 lockdown. Brand, often described as the “Indiana Jones of the art world” for his specialty in recovering high-profile works of stolen art, received two “proof-of-life” photos of the stolen painting later in June that year.

There was radio silence until 2021, when a 59-year-old man identified as Nils M. was arrested and charged with the theft of the van Gogh work as well as a painting by Frans Hals that was stolen from the Hofje van Aerden museum in Leerdam after DNA evidence connected him to both scenes.

Today, September 12, Brand shared a video of himself holding the painting on Instagram, announcing that it had been recovered and will be returned to the Groninger Museum. The detective told the Guardian that he had been contacted by someone who claimed to have “Spring Garden” and wanted to return it on the condition that they would not “get into trouble.”

Brand has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

The person handed over the bubble-wrapped, unframed painting in an IKEA bag at Brand’s doorstep, and it was quickly authenticated by Groninger Museum Director Andreas Blühm, who was waiting at a nearby bar.

While the oil painting on papered panel sustained some scratches and damages outside of its controlled museum environment, a spokesperson for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam confirmed with Hyperallergic that an “examination is in full progress now” for restorations and repair. Details are sparse at this time due to the ongoing investigation, but a Groninger Museum representative shared that the institution is “very happy with the recovery!”

According to a press release from the Groninger, the painting officially belongs to the insurance company that paid out the valued amount to the museum. However, the institution still retains the rights to the painting and will proudly display it again once the restorations and repairs are completed.

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