As Mike Corder reports for the Associated Press, a thief or thieves carried out a smash-and-grab raid in the early hours of Monday morning, likely exploiting the museum’s recent closure to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The painting, titled The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884, depicts a landscape church in Neunen, the village where van Gogh’s father worked as a pastor, according to Naomi Rea of artnet News. Rendered in somewhat muted hues, the work predates the Dutch artist’s move to southern France, where he developed a more vibrant and colorful style.
To complicate matters further, the masterpiece was never a part of the Singer Laren’s permanent collection, belonging instead to the Netherlands’ Groninger Museum, which had temporarily loaned out the artwork—the only van Gogh the institution owned.
“The Groninger Museum is shocked by the news,” officials said in a statement quoted by artnet News. A spokesperson declined to comment further, citing the police investigation.
Within hours of the painting’s pilfering, police launched a criminal investigation rounded out by security footage and accounts from residents. Any locals with pertinent information have been asked to come forward to assist the process, as museum officials stress that the incident has robbed not only the institution itself, but art-adoring patrons around the world.
“I am shocked and absolutely livid that this has happened,” says Jan Rudolph de Lorm, director of the Singer Laren, in a video statement translated by Reuters. “This splendid and moving artwork by one of our great artists has been stolen, taken from the community.”
De Lorm, as quoted by the AP, adds, “[A]rt exists to be seen and shared by us, the community.” The fruits of such creativity, he explains, exist “to enjoy, to draw inspiration from and to draw comfort from, especially in these difficult times.”
Little is known about the break-in itself. Police said that the thief or thieves forced the building’s glass front doors open at around 3:15 a.m. on Monday morning. The break-in tripped an alarm, but by the time officers reached the museum, the painting and its captors had vanished. By early afternoon, the broken entrance had been covered with a large white panel.
Prior to its disappearance, the painting was featured in the Singer Laren’s “Mirror of the Soul” exhibition, which opened on January 14 and was scheduled to close on May 10. In light of the evolving pandemic, the museum has shuttered until at least June 1, according to artnet News.
So far, no other paintings in the Singer Laren have been reported missing. Together with the Groninger and local law enforcement, the museum is now working to ensure the artwork’s expedient return.
“We are not deterred,” said Groninger Museum director Andreas Blühm in the statement, as reported by Janene Pieters of the Netherlands Times. “We will ensure that it is back as soon as possible.”