THE HAQUE: Thieves stole a painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh early Monday in a daring heist from a museum that was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 1884 painting, titled the "Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring", was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam.
The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to six million euros ($6.6 million). "I am shocked and unbelievably annoyed this theft has happened," Jan Rudolph de Lorm, one of the museum's directors, told a press conference.
"Art is there to be seen, to be enjoyed, to inspire and to bring solace, particularly in these troubled times in which we find ourselves," De Lorm said. The theft happened on what would have been the 167th birthday of the brilliant yet troubled artist.
"Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring" comes from relatively early on in Van Gogh's career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist paintings such as "Sunflowers" and his vivid self-portraits.
The painting was on loan from its owners, the Groninger Museum in the north of the Netherlands, as part of an exhibition. The Singer Laren museum closed two weeks ago in compliance with Dutch government measures aimed at tackling the spread of COVID-19.
Dutch police said the criminals had broken in at around 3:15 am (0115 GMT). "Police officers immediately rushed to the scene but the perpetrators had escaped," Dutch police said in a statement, appealing for witnesses.
'Hunt is on'
The painting has an estimated value of between one million and six million euros, Dutch art detective Arthur Brand said. "The hunt is on," said Brand, who is known for recovering stolen Nazi art including "Hitler's Horses".
It was the third time the famous Dutch master's works have been targeted in the Netherlands since the 1990s, Brand said.
"To me this looks like the work of a copycat," Brand told AFP, adding the modus operandi was similar to the other two cases.
"The thieves only went for a Van Gogh, while there are other works too in the museum," he said. Asked whether he thought there was enough security at the museum Brand said "it is very difficult to say.