Stolen Van Gogh Painting Returned to Detective in Ikea Bag

by Claudia Fennell '24 on November 9, 2023
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Typically, one would expect a large, shiny, blue Ikea bag to be filled with delicious Swedish meatballs or affordably priced, yet intensely strenuous, assemble-at-home furniture. However, one undoubtedly special plastic blue Ikea bag was delivered to the home of stolen art detective Arthur Brand a few weeks ago. Sheathed in bubble wrap and tucked inside a plush pillow was none other than an 1884 painting by Vincent Van Gogh himself.

The painting, entitled The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, was one of Van Gogh’s first works, created in May of 1884. During this time, Van Gogh was living with his parents in a town in the Netherlands called Nuenen, hence the name of the painting. This landscape was the subject of many of his drawings and oil paintings, however, the painting in question is especially wonderfully executed, making it worth between $3.2 and $6.4 million.

The painting was stolen three years ago on March 30, 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The painting is owned by the Groninger Museum,  a historic museum located in the Netherlands that opened in 1874 and boasts both Dutch and international artwork. In 2020, the Groninger Museum loaned the Van Gogh painting to the Singer Laren Museum, in the southern Netherlands, to be a part of their temporary exhibition. The exhibition ultimately had to be closed shortly after opening due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. The COVID-19 pandemic left the museum vulnerable as it was largely unoccupied and understaffed.One art thief viewed this as an opportunity. Video footage from the day of the theft shows a man breaking into the museum and using a sledgehammer to shatter two glass doors that protected the painting. The footage shows him grabbing the painting, tucking it under his arm, and fleeing the scene on his motorcycle. The thief was caught less than a year later, but the painting was nowhere to be found. For the past three years, famous stolen art detective, Arthur Brand, has been on the hunt to find the piece. He was finally successful a few short weeks ago.

Arthur Brand, a stolen art detective, has been dubbed by the media to be the “Indiana Jones of the art world” for unearthing historical stolen pieces, including pieces by famed artists such as Picasso. Brand explained to the media that after the thief had been caught, the painting became essentially worthless. The entire world was looking for this piece to be returned, and it would raise eyebrows if it appeared at an auction so soon after. Brand received anonymous tips over the past three years, including images from underground mafia circles casually photographing the painting next to a recent copy of the New York Times. In collaboration with the Dutch police, Brand was able to gain the trust of one of the tipsters, so much so that the man returned the piece to Brand’s private home in the Netherlands. A video taken by Brand’s colleague shows him grinning from ear to ear as he excitedly takes the pillow out of the Ikea bag and finally unveils the painting. He noted a few scratches, but nothing that could not be fixed. After taking in the piece by himself for a few moments, Brand handed over the piece to the Dutch police. After some slight restoration work, it is set to be returned to its rightful owners at the Groninger Museum in the northern Netherlands, only a few hours’ drive away from Van Gogh’s birthplace.