Lust for Larceny

With return of "Parsonage Garden," the Netherlands are 29-for-29 on recovering stolen Van Goghs.

Published October 14, 2023

Located in the tiny Dutch town of Laren, the Singer Laren Museum displays a well-curated collection donated by an art-loving American couple, Anna and William Singer. The Netherlands tourism board describes the museum as “a place to gather and celebrate the arts” — and one amateur thief decided that it was also a place where he could help himself to a Van Gogh. 

In March 2020, shortly after the Singer Laren closed due to Covid-19, a man smashed the museum’s glass doors, raced through the galleries, and grabbed Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring — a painting that was on loan from another Dutch museum. (Jan Rudolph de Lorm, the director of the Singer Laren, said that he was “incredibly pissed off” by the theft.) 

The following April, the 59-year-old alleged art-heister was arrested at his home, and was sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay €9 million ($9.8M) in restitution for the pilfered painting. (He also took a Frans Hals painting from a museum in Leerdam.) But the painting still was not recovered… until September 23, when someone dropped it off with an art detective in a big blue IKEA bag.

Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was the 29th Van Gogh to be stolen in the Netherlands and was, until the IKEA bag incident, the only one that hadn’t been found. It took 14 years (!!!) for the authorities to track down two works that were stolen from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 2002, but they were discovered hidden in a wall in a Mafia safehouse (!!! again) and have since been returned to the museum. 

The biggest Van Gogh theft – and one of the flat-out ballsiest art heists of the 20th century – happened in the single-digit hours of Sunday, April 14, 1991, when a pair of thieves broke into the Van Gogh Museum and filled two garment bags with 20 works by the Dutch-born post-Impressionist. 

The thieves took off in a security guard’s car, but less than an hour after the the guards called the cops, that car — and all 20 paintings — were found abandoned near a train station. Apparently the accomplice who was supposed to roll up in a second getaway car got a flat tire and never showed. Four men, including one of the guards who was on duty that night and a member of the museum’s security company, were all arrested. 

Look, if you want a Van Gogh, just do what everyone in your freshman dorm did and buy a freaking poster. 

UPDATE: A version of this story appeared on April 5, 2022, on the news page of Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. But the painting is back, baby! Woooo!