Blühm sprinted out of his seat. The french fries went half-eaten. This wasn’t simply any painting — it was one in every of Vincent Van Gogh’s early works, “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring,” which in 2020 had been stolen from a temporary exhibit at another museum in the Netherlands whereas it was on mortgage from the Groninger Museum. Though arrests had been made in the case, the painting remained caught in the void of the felony underworld, being handed round like a nuclear sizzling potato ever since.
But on Monday morning, the painting from 1884 was recovered in a scene worthy of a Hollywood flick: It arrived at the residence of Dutch artwork detective Arthur Brand, dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the art world,” inside a bloody pillowcase that was stuffed into one in every of Ikea’s iconic blue tote luggage. Brand instantly referred to as Blühm.
“It was an incredibly emotional reunion and truly an amazing day,” Blühm informed The Washington Post. “The painting is an integral part of our collection and of our local cultural heritage, and thinking we could have lost that forever was terrible.”
Unlike Van Gogh’s extra colourful and well-known work of his French interval, “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring” has a muted palette of deep browns. At the time, Van Gogh “was trying to master classic landscape painting,” Blühm stated, by re-creating scenes from his dad and mom’ residence in Nuenen, Netherlands. The painting, which portrays a mysterious girl strolling in the backyard, had remained in the metropolis of Groningen for greater than 120 years after a college professor purchased it in the early twentieth century. In 1962 it was gifted to the metropolis, after which to the museum.
In January 2020, the painting traveled 105 miles south to the metropolis of Laren, the place it was displayed as a part of an exhibit referred to as “Mirror of the Soul” — a set of some 70 work showcasing Dutch artists’ early shifts away from the impressionist fashion, stated Evert van Os, the basic supervisor of the Singer Laren museum. But in the early hours of March 30, 2020, a person shattered the museum’s glass door, snatched the painting off the wall and fled on a motorbike — against the law that coincidentally fell on Van Gogh’s birthday.
“To be honest, from an artistic view and also in terms of value, there were better paintings in the exhibition,” van Os stated. “But they were not Van Gogh, a name that is like magic for criminals since they all know him internationally.”
Authorities say Peter Roy K, who was in jail for a separate case involving the large-scale import and export of cocaine, commissioned the theft in a bid to barter a decrease sentence. The heist was carried out by a person recognized as Nils M, who was convicted in 2021 and sentenced to eight years in jail for the painting theft.
“This is more like artnapping,” stated Blühm, from the Groninger Museum. “Certainly with works of art by famous artists, like Van Gogh, it’s not that they want to steal it to sell it, or to hang it in their basement, it’s more like they want to have something to negotiate with.”
But there’s an enormous downside with stolen artwork, based on Brand.
“No one wants to touch illegal art,” the detective stated. “And everybody who touched this painting ended up in prison with high prison time, and they got fines of millions.”
The invaluable piece was out of the blue rendered nugatory, handed from group to group till somebody determined it was time to interrupt the cycle.
The first message to Brand got here a few weeks in the past, he stated. Out of the blue, his cellphone lit up with a WhatsApp message asking whether or not he had a confidentiality obligation. “I said, ‘No, I’m not a priest. But if I give you my word, I give you my word,’” Brand stated. After a couple of minutes his cellphone pinged once more — the nameless particular person stated he might return “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring” and despatched Brand proof.
“I discussed it with the Dutch police, and it was obvious from the beginning that this person had nothing to do with the theft,” Brand stated. “This was a guy who just wanted to hand it over, so we went along with it.”
On Saturday, Brand was at a celebration when he acquired one other textual content: “Arthur, I see you standing outside. I’m here and I want to meet you under the tree.”
Brand walked away from the celebration and into an space shrouded in darkness. There, a person sitting on a bench promised he’d return the painting in two days — however provided that he didn’t get into any bother. Brand informed Blühm immediately, and the museum director organized to journey to Amsterdam, the place he’d be capable of determine the painting as soon as it was — hopefully — delivered.
Blühm had already been by one false alarm and was hesitant to get his hopes up as soon as once more. It was additionally a restoration mission he needed to preserve secret. And although he thought to himself, I’ll solely imagine it once I see it, Blühm referred to as in sick from work on Monday and sat inside a restaurant awaiting Brand’s name.
Some two blocks away, the change was already happening. Brand heard a doorbell ring and opened the door to discover a smiling man carrying a battered Ikea bag. He apologized for the bits of blood that splashed throughout the pillowcase after he reduce his hand.
From inside the pillowcase, Brand rigorously took out a painting that was about 11 inches tall and 22 inches lengthy. It had a few scratches, but it surely was in any other case in good situation. Then, he referred to as Blühm to confirm it.
“It’s still difficult to call the police because stolen art isn’t something you find in the Salvation Army; you find it in the criminal world,” Brand stated. “But sometimes, people in the criminal underworld, for whatever reason, want to do something good.”
Now, the painting is being safely stored by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the place it’ll endure restorations. Blühm stated he hopes it will likely be displayed once more at the Groninger Museum — the place it can stay for not less than a few years, as a result of Blühm is “a little too traumatized” by the expertise to mortgage it out once more.
On Tuesday, when Blühm was lastly in a position to announce the information, the museum’s workers celebrated with lukewarm champagne and cake. And although the restoration introduced immense pleasure throughout the Netherlands, the museum director stated there was additionally a bittersweet side to it.
“We are obviously overjoyed,” he stated. “But the sad thing is that this incident makes this painting all of a sudden more interesting. And this is not fair, because the painting is already interesting as it is, and it doesn’t need that story.”