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June 18, 2020

Survival selfie of Vincent Van Gogh's artnapped painting "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen."

Art loss detective Arthur Brand has provided two photos, of the front and verso, of the artnapped Vincent Van Gogh painting "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen."  One photo shows the front of the small painting sandwiched between a New York Times newspaper and a Dutch copy of the autobiography "The Master Thief" written by Octave Durham.  The addition of the book may have been a tongue-in-cheek gesture on the part of the photographer as the book's author "Okkie" is the infamous thief who stole two other priceless Vincent van Gogh paintings on the evening of Dec. 7, 2002 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

At the time of this year's Van Gogh theft, "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen," painted in 1884, had been on loan from the Groninger Museum in the city of Groningen to the Singer Laren Museum for an exhibition.  Stolen in the early days of the coronavirus shutdown, a thief made his way into the shuttered Singer Laren museum by forcing his way through the glass front door of the museum's edifice before moving into the gallery to cherry-pick this singular work of art by Van Gogh. 

Verso of the painting appears to be authentic according to
Andreas Blühm, Director of the Groninger Museum
Brand informed those covering the case that he had received the photos of the painting a few days ago but for now is remaining pretty mum on providing too many details, aside from noting that the painting has a new scratch on the bottom.  The photo's inclusion of the newspaper serves as a proof of life that the painting was in that stated condition, minus its original frame, on or after 30 May 2020, when the newspaper was published.

Given that the version of the New York Times is the European edition, one can extrapolate that the artwork was likely still within Europe two months after the robbery.   Or at least it was eighteen days ago.  The newspaper also shows an article which ironically or not, mentions both Brand and the Van Gogh thief Octave Durham.

Brand had stated that he came by the photos after they turned up circulating in mafia circles.  It is unclear if the images were taken as a means of shopping the painting for a buyer, as the first steps in ransoming the painting, or simply as a nose-thumbing statement of confident arrogance on the part of the criminal showing he (or they) still hold the artwork. 

“Artnapping”—the stealing of art for ransom—is known to be a ploy used in the criminal world.   In 2015 thieves tried to blackmail the Vatican for the return of documents by Michelangelo stolen 20 years ago.  

Tragically, sometimes artworks are ransomed to generate funds to carry out other crimes or arm militias. This appears to have been the case during the art heist at the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, northwestern Holland in 2005. Ten years later,  representatives from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists militia entered the Dutch embassy in Kiev and demanded a ransom of €50 million for the safe return of the artworks.  Likewise, Khalid El Bakraoui, the suicide bomber who attacked the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels, had earlier attempted to obtain a payout for ten paintings stolen from the Museum Van Buuren valued at more than €1m.