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September 30, 2016

December 12, 1988 - Museum Theft, Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands

At a time in the late 80s when Van Gogh's paintings were listed on the "Top 10 Prices Paid for Paintings" at two of the world's two premiere auction houses, Christie's and Sotheby's, stealing Vincent's artwork might have seen like a fast way to make money. Van Gogh's touchingly poignant Irises, painted in 1889 during the last year before his death at the asylum at Saint-Rémy had just sold (on November 11, 1987) for $53.9 million, the highest price ever paid for an artwork in an auction at that time. 

Perhaps with this in mind, and perhaps because the Kröller-Müller Museum holds the second-largest collection of the Post-Impressionist master in the world, with almost 90 paintings and over 180 drawings attributed to Vincent Van Gogh, the thieves decided to hit the Otterlo museum on December 12, 1988. TO commit their crime, they entered the museum by breaking one of the windows and then made off with three artworks worth an estimated €113 million euros.

The works stolen included: 

The second of three painted sketches titled 
De aardappeleters, (the potato eaters), April - May 1885
oil on canvas mounted on panel, 73.9 x 95.2 cm
Completed in Nuenen

Loom with Weaver, 1885
oil on canvas, 70 x 85 cm
Completed in Nuenen


Four Cut Sunflowers, August-September 1887
oil on canvas,  60.0 x 100.0 cm
Completed in Paris 

Loom with Weaver was returned, possibly as a gesture for negotiation in April 1989.  The two thieves then tried to exact a $2.5 million ransom for the remaining two paintings which led to the police recovering the works on July 13, 1989. 

While no ransom was paid, the artworks did sustain damages.  Two men were sentenced to 3.5 and 5 years respectively for their roles in the crime.

By: Lynda Albertson


The picture used in this article shows "The potato eaters" from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The dimensions of the Kröller-Müller Museum version are 73.9 x 95.2 cm and the first two works were painted in Nuenen (not Neunen). Great site!