Stolen Van Gogh painting returned in IKEA carrier bag three years after heist

A Van Gogh painting stolen from a museum in March 2020 has been returned after an art detective said he was handed the 139-year-old artwork covered in an Ikea bag wrapped in a pillow.

Arthur Brand worked with Dutch police on recovering the painting which is estimated to be worth around several million pounds.

In 2021, a man was jailed for eight years over the incident but the painting was not found at the time of his conviction.

Mr Brand told the BBC that they knew it would pass from one group to another in the criminal underground as nobody would want to touch it.

But eventually he was approached by a man in Amsterdam who offered to return it on the grounds he would receive complete confidentiality.

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Mr Brand said: “I did this in complete co-ordination with Dutch police and we knew this guy wasn’t involved in the theft. I was at a birthday party and he was waiting under a tree and he explained to me why he wanted to do this.”

The painting was handed over to Mr Brand at his home on Monday afternoon, while the director of the Groninger museum was waiting on the street corner in a bar to authenticate the work.

Titled The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, it was originally stolen from the Dutch town of Laren. The thief smashed through two glass doors at the Singer museum with a sledgehammer to retrieve the painting.

It had been on loan from a museum in the north-eastern city of Groningen which has hailed the work’s recovery as “wonderful news”.

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The French-born thief, known as Nils M, was convicted of stealing the work as well as the Frans Hals painting a few months later from a different museum. His DNA was discovered at both crime scenes linking him to the theft.

The painting was protected by a pillow case which was covered in blood, according to Mr Brand.

He said the man who returned it had cut his finger while retrieving it. It was also placed inside an Ikea carrier bag.

A spokesman for the Dutch police arts crime unit has confirmed that the recovered painting is authentic and Andreas Blühm, the head of the Groninger museum, has spoken of his delight at its safe return.

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“In recent years I began to wonder: will I still be around to see it [return]?… I saw immediately it was genuine. It’s slightly damaged but it can be repaired,” he told De Telegraaf website.

The museum said Spring Garden was currently in the hands of the Van Gogh museum and it could take weeks or months before it would go back on display.

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