AMSTERDAM (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
The photographs look like the sort of images that kidnappers distribute with a ransom demand to establish that their victim is alive. A newspaper’s front page is included and used as a time stamp to indicate that the images are recent.
In this case, the subject isn’t a kidnapping victim, but rather a Vincent van Gogh painting that was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands in March.
Arthur Brand, a private Dutch art crimes detective who is investigating the theft, said only that he received them from a “source in my network,” without further elaboration. He posted them on his Twitter feed and shared them with a Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf.
Brand suspects that the images were circulated in criminal circles in an effort to find a potential buyer.
“They are important because it’s a proof of life,” Brand said. “In many cases like this art theft, you see that criminals get nervous and they feel the police are on their backs and they destroy it. Now we know that it hasn’t been destroyed.”
The police investigating the case did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Brand declined to say whether he had been contacted by the police about the photos.
Ursula Weitzel, a leading art crimes prosecutor in the Netherlands, said she had never seen “proof of life” photographs of art works circulated like this.
The painting, “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring,” from 1884, was stolen while part of a temporary exhibition at the Singer Laren, on loan from the Groninger Museum. Security camera footage of the robbery on March 30 shows a man breaking into the museum using a sledgehammer to smash two glass doors and leaving with the painting under his arm.
Andreas Blühm, director of the Groninger Museum, said the photographs of the painting appear authentic, because one shows the back of the work. “You can only have that if you have the painting,” he said in an interview.
He said that he could not comment on whether the museum had been approached with a ransom demand.