Vincent van Gogh’s birthday was celebrated in an unusual way this year. On 30 March (Monday), his painting Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring was stolen from a Dutch museum which had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Van Gogh’s stolen work Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring
The painting was stolen from the Singer Laren museum
The painting was seized from the Singer Laren museum in Laren, a town approximately 30 minutes away from the southeastern side of Amsterdam. In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the museum had closed on 12 March. They have put a stop to their exhibition titled “Mirror of the Soul” which showcased over 70 masterpieces from 19th century Holland.
The thieves smashed the museum’s front glass door at around 3 am and took The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring. Although the alarm was triggered, the police did not arrive in time to catch the thieves.
Art detectives and investigators have started their investigation but have yet to find out if the thieves took other works from the museum. According to experts, the van Gogh painting that was stolen on the artist's 167th birthday is priced at approximately €6m.
The thieves broke in through the museum’s front door
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) started painting at the age of 27 but passed away when he was 37. All of his works were created in merely 10 years. In 1883, van Gogh travelled to Nuenen, a small village in the North Brabant district of the Netherlands, to live with his parents. During his two years at Nuenen, he painted over 200 works, employing local peasants, weavers, churches and cottages as subjects.
Van Gogh's paintings were not popular in his lifetime. Although an art gallery from Paris showed interest in his works, they did not proceed to purchase his paintings or hold exhibitions for him. Van Gogh blamed his younger brother Theo for not promoting his paintings. Yet, Theo paid no attention to van Gogh’s criticism. He instead dispraised van Gogh’s work by saying that his use of colours was too dark compared to popular Impressionist works at that time. Little did people know- van Gogh's unique Nuenen paintings are now some of the most sought-after works.
Created in 1884, the stolen painting measures at 25 x 57cm and was painted in Nuenen. The work’s gloomy colours form a stark contrast with van Gogh’s later paintings which are bright and colourful. The paintings below are two of his Nuenen period works which were sold respectively at Christie’s New York and Sotheby’s London for US$1.92m and £1.09m.
Editor’s note: Another van Gogh painting from the Nuenen period sold for only £4 when it first appeared in the market. It recently sold for €15m at the TEFAF Maastricht art fair. For more details, please read: “A Van Gogh Painting That Sold for £4 at a Farm Sale Is Now Worth €15m”.
Oude Toren bij Zonsondergang from van Gogh’s Nuenen period, sold for US$1.92m at Christie’s New York in 2014
Peasant Woman Seated from van Gogh’s Nuenen period, sold for £1.09m at Sotheby’s London in 2020
Details of the stolen van Gogh
Another van Gogh painting from the Nuenen period sold for only £4 when it first appeared in the market. It recently sold for €15m at the TEFAF Maastricht art fair.
Van Gogh created many works in Nuenen but it is perhaps one of the darkest periods in his life. He fell in love with a neighbour’s daughter but due to the opposition from their parents they did not end up together. The girl committed suicide but survived after being rushed to the hospital by van Gogh. Van Gogh’s father also died of a heart attack during his time in Nuenen. The artist then left Nuenen and moved to Belgium and then France.
Van Gogh’s Nuenen period paintings have always been popular with art thieves. In 2002, two of the artist's paintings were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. One of which was Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, painted in 1885.
Van Gogh created the painting in 1884 for his mother while she was confined to her house with a broken leg, featuring his father's small church as the subject. In 1885, the artist’s father passed away so he made alterations to the painting- the congregation changed into mourning clothes and leaves fell from trees. In 2016, the Italian government recovered the painting from Naples and sent it back to the Van Gogh museum. The stolen painting today is believed to be a painting of van Gogh's father's vicarage garden.
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen was stolen and recovered
The Singer Laren museum showcases the collection of American artist William Henry Singer (1868-1943) and his wife. In 2007, seven statues were stolen from the museum’s garden, including Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) The Thinker. The statue was found a few days later but was seriously damaged.
The looted van Gogh work does not belong to the Singer Laren collection. It is a loan from the Groninger Museum and their only van Gogh piece. The museum director said he was “incredibly pissed off” and will do everything in his power to recover the painting. We will keep you updated with the latest information.