Around the world, museums have been shuttered as more than 3 billion people have gone into lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Singer Laren museum, some 20 miles southwest of Amsterdam, was no exception–a fact which thieves took advantage of in the early hours of Monday, March 30th, when they stole Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring, valued at £5 million.
The small Dutch museum displays the collection of American artist and collector William Singer and his wife Anna. The stolen Van Gogh is not part of its usual collection, but was on loan from the Groninger Museum as part of an exhibition on 19th century Dutch art which had attracted some 5,000 visitors a week before it was forced to close due to the coronavirus.
High-profile museum thefts are remarkably common–but the fact that this theft took place during a public health crisis seemed to spark particular ire. “I feel enormous anger and sadness”, the museum’s director, Jan Rudolph de Lorm, told the New York Times. “Because especially in these dark days that we are in, I feel so strongly that art is here to comfort us, to inspire us and to heal us”.
To make the heist even more peculiar, it took place on what would have been Van Gogh’s 167th birthday, though de Lorm questioned whether the thieves were aware of the peculiar coincidence.
The ill-fated painting has been added to Interpol’s global list of stolen pieces of art. Investigators will be hoping for a streak of luck like in 2016, when two Van Goghs stolen from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum in 2002 were found in a house outside Naples connected with the notorious organised crime group the Camorra.