The Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam, the Netherlands, was closed. Like most venues and walk-in businesses, the museum shut its doors to limit transmission of the novel coronavirus. But the closure didn’t stop thieves. Instead, it presented an opportunity. Someone stole a painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh in an overnight smash-and-grab raid on the Singer Laren.
The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884 was taken in the early hours of the anniversary of the painter’s birthday on March 30.
Van Gogh’s most famous paintings use vibrant colors, thickly applied in swirling and expressive strokes and dabs in the Post-Impressionist style. But not this work. Van Gogh created the bleak image at an earlier time in his life, before developing his own unique style. At the time, he was living with his parents. His father was a Dutch Reformed Church pastor, and the parsonage referred to in the painting’s title was home.
Vincent’s father converted the parsonage laundry room into a studio for his artistic son. He used the small, humble indoor space for almost two years, producing about 200 paintings and drawings in that time. Just prior to creating The Parsonage Garden in Spring, van Gogh had finished a series of winter paintings. All used a somber palette of browns and grays. This image introduced touches of green and red, suggesting that winter was finally turning to spring.
Museum General Director Evert van Os said the institution that houses the collection of American couple William and Anna Singer is “angry, shocked, sad” at the theft. The 10-by-22-inch oil-on-paper work was on loan from the Groninger Museum in the Dutch city of Groningen. Its value wasn’t immediately known. Van Gogh’s paintings, which rarely come up for sale, fetch millions at auction. But it would be almost impossible for a thief to sell a known work like this one.
Police were investigating the theft amid speculation by art lovers about the thief’s motivation for taking this particular work on the artist’s birthday. A team of forensics and art theft experts studied video footage and questioned neighbors.
Singer Laren museum director Jan Rudolph says the loss is more than just material. It robs a public “in these difficult times” of a shared experience that the work communicated. As much of the world waited in some form of quarantine or isolation, the overcast view of the garden and its lone figure—with spring promised but not quite in reach yet—spoke of hope, perseverance, and patience to the lonely.