As It Happens

Famed art detective on the hunt for stolen Van Gogh, Hals paintings

Dutch art detective Arthur Brand — known as "the Indiana Jones of the art world" — says chatty criminals in the "underworld" revealed the details of stolen paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals to him, but they are still missing.

Police have made an arrest in the thefts, but the paintings still haven't been found

Dutch art detective Arthur Brand says sources in the criminal underworld helped him learn more about the robbery of Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals paintings, but he still hasn't been able to recover them. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

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Dutch art detective Arthur Brand says chatty criminals in the "underworld" revealed to him the details of stolen paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals.

Dutch police announced Tuesday that they have arrested a 58-year-old man in the Dutch town of Baarn in connection with the robbery. Police have not released his identity. 

But the paintings in question are still missing, and Brand is on the hunt. He has recovered over 200 works of art during his storied career, and has been dubbed by the media as "the Indiana Jones of the art world."

"If you steal a Van Gogh and a Frans Hal, let's say 30 or 40 kilometres from my home, what are the odds that I'm not going to stick my nose in?" Brand told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

The heists

Van Gogh's The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884 was stolen from the Singer Laren museum east of Amsterdam in the early hours of March 30, 2020. The museum was closed at the time due to a coronavirus lockdown.

Hals painting, Two Laughing Boys, was stolen about five months later from Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam. 

Vincent van Gogh's The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, which was stolen from the Singer Museum in Laren, Netherlands, is still missing. (Groninger Museum/The Associated Press)

Brand says it's not necessarily difficult to steal paintings like this. In fact, this is the third time Two Laughing Boys has been stolen. 

"It's not like it's Fort Knox," he said. "But afterwards, what can you do with a painting? Because the whole world knows that that painting has been stolen." 

While police have not released any details on the investigation, Brand says the paintings are now circulating in criminal circles. 

In June, he released two "proof of life" photos of the Van Gogh painting with the front page of the New York Times. Brand says a source sent him the photo, which was proof to possible buyers that the thief did, in fact, have the painting. 

Brand says paintings that are this valuable are usually sold to criminals, like drug lords, who then use them as leverage for a lesser sentence on unrelated charges. 

He says sources in the criminal underworld chat among themselves — and that eventually those "rumours" make their way to him. That's what happened in the case of the missing paintings. 

Brand says both he and police know who bought the Van Gogh painting, but that the new "owner" refuses to reveal its location.

Dutch police have not confirmed this. In a statement, spokesperson Maren Wonder said: "Unfortunately, we haven't yet recovered the paintings and the investigation is continuing." 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from the Associated Press. Produced by Chris Harbord. 

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