September 29, 2016

June 28, 1990 - Museum Theft, Het Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, The Netherlands


At around 12:30 in the morning on June 28, 1990 three early Van Gogh paintings were stolen from the Het Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. s-Hertogenbosch is the actual official name of the city, but colloquially almost everybody calls the city Den Bosch, which translates in English to mean 'the Duke’s Forest' .

The artworks taken were: 

Brabant Peasant, seated Study for the Potato Eaters (also known as Farmer's Wife Seated)  Dec 1884 - April 1885
oil on paper on panel 36 X 26.5 cm
Completed in Nuenen


Digging Farmer (also known as Digging Farmer's Wife), 1885-1887
oil on canvas, 37.5 X 25.7 cm
Completed in Nuenen


Wheels of the Mill, Genneper, 1884
oil on canvas,  61.5 x 80.5 cm
Completed in Nuenen


Van Gogh painted about a quarter of his entire body of works, including these three artworks, in Nuenen, less than 20 miles from the Het Noordbrabants Museum.

On the morning of the theft, the culprit(s) profited from a relatively sophisticated, but nonfunctioning, alarm system.  Set to go off when it sensed movement, on the day of the theft the system failed to signal the unauthorised entry and failed to signal a malfunction in the sensors.  The burglar(s) entered the unmanned museum undetected simply by breaking an unalarmed ground floor window which in turn allowed access the museum's collection.

Once inside the criminal(s) quickly absconded with the three early 19th-Century Dutch Impressionist artworks.  At the time of their theft they were estimated to be worth from USD $ 2.7 million to $5.4 million.

The theft marked the third theft of Van Gogh works in just two short years. 

All was not lost however.  One year later, after an anonymous tip-off, The Digging Farmer was found in a safe deposit box rented under a false name in a bank located in Eeklo, a Belgian municipality in the Flemish province of East Flanders .

The other two paintings, Brabant Peasant, seated and Wheels of the Mill, Genneper, were returned in relatively good condition to the museum via a prosecutor, Mr. D. van der Bel Middelburg working in The Hague and a lawyer representing a defendant in a totally unrelated case from Amsterdam. Listed in the judicial records as simply an 'informer' the defendant was not believed to have been one of the original thieves but rather an opportunist who had hoped to influence the outcome of his own case by providing information on other criminal's handiwork.

By: Lynda Albertson

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