September 29, 2016

April 14, 1991 - Museum Theft, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

oil on canvas, 95 cm x 73 cm 
This spectacular theft occurred at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam during the predawn hours of Sunday, April 14, 1991.  It is considered to be the largest art heist in the Netherlands subsequent to World War II, as well as the fastest recovery time for stolen works of art from an important collection.

Twenty paintings by the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh, including one of his iconic Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1889) were stolen from the museum by thieves; one who concealed himself in the gallery the previous evening and another, who was let his accomplice into the museum during the theft.

At the time of the robbery, the value of the stolen art was estimated at USD $500 million. 

Listed below are all the artworks taken during the theft, some with photos.

The Bedroom, 1888
oil on canvas, 72.0 x 90.0 cm
Completed in Arles



Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 
oil on canvas, 50.5 cm x 103 cm 
Completed in the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise just one month before Vincent committed suicide on the 29th of July in 1890


The Sower, 1888
oil on canvas, 32.5 cm x 40.3 cm 
Completed in Arles


The Potato Eaters, the final version, 1885
oil on canvas, 82 cm x 114 cm
Completed in his hometown of Nuenen


Still Life: Vase with Violet Irises Against a Yellow Background, 1890
oil on canvas, 92.7 cm x 73.9 cm 
Completed in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence


Still Life with Open Bible, Extinguished Candle and Novel 
also known as Still Life with Bible, 1985
oil on canvas, 65.7 cm x 78.5 cm
Completed in Nuenen


Still Life with Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes, 1887
Oil on Canvas with a painted frame, 48.5 x 65.0 cm.
Completed in Paris



                              Almond Blossoms (with branches), 1890

                              Basket of Apples, 1885

                              The Bridge of Langlios, 1888

                              Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,                                     1884 - 1885

                              Field with trees, the Château d'Auvers, 1890

                              Flowering Orchard, 1889

                              Leather Clogs, 1889

                              Oiran (Japanese courtesan), 1887

                              Self Portrait as a Painter, 1887 - 1888

                              Shoes, 1887

                              Tree Roots, 1890

                              Wheatfield with a Reaper, 1889

At the time of the robbery, two night watchmen heard sounds coming from inside the museum at approximately 3 AM local time, indicating that there was in intruder in the building.  Upon investigating, they were confronted by a man brandishing a pistol and wearing a balaclava to disguise his face.  This individual then forced the guards to disable the museum's security devices and allowed his accomplice access into the museum.  

Both thieves then reportedly confined the guards before setting about removing the twenty works of art.  In less than an hour they had filled two expandable garment bags to the brim with the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist's works.  The criminals then used one of the guards cars as their getaway vehicle, scrunching all the artworks inside before hopping in with them to make a fast get-away.

At 4:48 am, one minute after the thieves departed, the guards called-in the robbery to Amsterdam authorities. A grey Volkswagen Passat, matching the description of the guard's stolen car was located unlocked and abandoned at the site of the Amstel train station at 5:23 A.M.  A search of the car, revealed that all the paintings were accounted for, all still stuffed into the garment bags the thieves had used when removing them from the museum.

Three paintings, including Wheatfield with Crows, were severely damaged. 

Three months later, on July 18, 1991, authorities announced that they had arrested four Dutchmen for their roles in the botched predawn April robbery. One of the four men charged turned out to be one of the two security guards working inside the museum at the time of the theft.   A second accomplice was a former employee of the museum's security firm.  The two remaining joint principles to the crime were the apparent masterminds, each of whom had made promises to the museum insider and former contractor that they would receive a substantial fee for facilitating the robbery. 

Subsequent to the arrests, police stated the thieves had abandoned the paintings in the guard's car and fled the scene when their second get-away vehicle failed to arrive, apparently due to a flat tire. 

All four perpetrators were sentenced to prison terms.

By: Lynda Albertson

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