September 29, 2016

May 20, 1988 - Museum Theft, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In the early morning hours of May 20, 1988, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, located on the Museumplein, was hit with its one and only museum theft to date. The value of the stolen works, which became part of the collection between 1949 and 1951, were estimated by the museum's director Wilhelmus Beeren at the time to be between 25 to 100 million Dutch gilder, the currency of the Netherlands from the 17th century until 2002. 

The Stedelijk was equipped with an electronic alarm system but at the time of the break-in the museum was unmanned.  The alarm went off at five in the morning which prompted the private security service hired by the museum, and who monitored the alarm system from a central office, to contact the Amsterdam police 20 minutes later.

Upon arriving on the scene, law enforcement found a broken window. During an inspection of the museum after the break-in, staff reported that three paintings had been taken from a room close to the entrance of the museum. 

The paintings stolen during the burglary were:

Vase with Carnations, 1886 
by Vincent van Gogh 
oil on canvas, 46.0 x 37.5 cm

Bouteilles et pêches (Bottles and Peaches), 1890
By Paul Cézanne
oil on canvas, 49 x 51 cm


La maison du maître Adam Billaud à Nevers (The House of Master Adam Billaud at Nevers) 1874 
By Johan Barthold Jongkind
oil on canvas, 56.5 x 42.5 cm

Interviewed shortly after the theft, Director Beeren stated that the theft could have been done by experts perhaps on a "made to Order" basis.  His hypothosis was based upon the fact that the museum contained many other, more valuable works of art and given the thief also chose to make-off with the paintings' frames. 

Eleven days later, on 31 May 1988, all three paintings were recovered undamaged by police, who had posed as potential buyers interested in Post-Impressionist art when dealing with the criminal. The culprit was then arrested for the burglary and convicted.

By: Lynda Albertson


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