Ikea bags transport a lot of things because of their large size, durability, and relatively low cost to consumers. But recently, the signature item from the Danish furniture and home goods retailer held a stolen painting by Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage garden at Nuenen in Spring.
Three and a half years ago, the work was stolen from the Singer Laren museum in a smash-and-grab robbery while the institution was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 1884 painting had been on loan to the Singer Laren from the Groninger Museum voor Stad en Lande in the Netherlands.
Video security footage shared with the Guardian showed an individual breaking through the Singer Laren’s glass doors using a sledgehammer and leaving with the van Gogh.
Arthur Brand, a Dutch private art detective, recently negotiated the return of the Dutch Post-Impressionist’s oil on paper panel. Last weekend, Brand met with a contact in Amstelveld, a square in central Amsterdam, where the painting was handed over in the bright blue Ikea bag.
According to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the news, the individuals holding the Van Gogh work had hoped to use it to barter for the release of a prisoner. Brand’s operation was also done in cooperation with Dutch police.
In a video posted on Instagram on September 12, Brand excitedly holds the van Gogh panel and said he was planning to have a drink with all the Dutch police officers who worked on its recovery after handing it over to museum director Andreas Blühm.
The Parsonage garden at Nuenen in Spring was made early in van Gogh’s career, prior to his artistic breakthrough in France. It shows a brushy figure standing in a garden, with a church in the background. The painting was made during a brief period when van Gogh lived in the Dutch city of Nuenen, where the artist’s father served as a pastor in a parish. It is also the only van Gogh in the Groninger Museum’s collection.
In March 2021, a Dutch man was arrested at his home in the small town of Baarn near Utrecht, in connection to the theft as well as another art heist from the Hofje van Aerden museum in Leerdam, also in hte Netherlands. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for the robberies.
While the recovered van Gogh painting is “still in good condition,” the Groninger Museum’s press statement said the work had suffered and will be “scientifically investigated” in the coming months. The institution also said there was no estimate on when the painting would return to being on display. “It could take weeks, if not months.”
The current formal owner of The Parsonage garden at Nuenen in Spring is the insurance company after it paid out the work’s value after the theft in 2020. However, the museum said it has “the right to the first purchase and will of course use this right in order to show the work to the public again in its right place.”
“The Groninger Museum is extremely happy and relieved that the work is back,” Blühm said in a press statement. “It is currently in good company in the Van Gogh Museum. We are very grateful to our colleagues in Amsterdam for their hospitality. On behalf of the all our staff, all Groningen residents and visitors, we are very grateful to everyone who contributed to this good outcome. Arthur Brand played a key role in this case and the museum greatly appreciates that.”