In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a painting by the Dutch Golden Age master Frans Hals was stolen for the third time. Hanneke Sanders, a spokesperson for the central Netherlands police department, announced at a press conference soon after that “we have no idea where the painting is at this moment.”
On 26th August masked thieves forced their way into the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam, near Utrecht, to specifically target the infamous painting. The museum’s alarm sounded at 03:30 am, but the perpetrators had already fled by the time security reached the scene.
Painted in 1626, ‘Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer’ might be considered one of the art world’s unluckiest paintings. It was first stolen in 1988 alongside ‘Forest View with Flowering Elderberry’ by Jacob van Ruisdael, and recovered three years later. Then in 2011 the pair of paintings were taken again, to be retrieved 6 months afterwards.
Since the last theft, the privately owned museum had stepped up its security. The most valuable works were no longer put on public display with only staff allowed to gain access to them. But this was not enough to deter another burglary.
He believes this theft could be part of a series of “stolen to order” art crimes in the Netherlands, where criminals exchange stolen works for shorter jail terms. For example, after the notorious art thief Octave Durham stole a painting from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 2002, a Naples mafia boss allegedly later used it to barter a lesser sentence.
Hals is one of the greatest portraitists of the Dutch Golden Age and the prices of his paintings reflect this; ‘Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer’ is estimated to be worth around €15 million (£13.4 million).
Brand warned that the recent perpetrators “now have me after them. I’m going to search until I find it.” Police will also use forensic specialists and art-theft experts from the national department.
While the museum’s CCTV footage is being checked, officers are now appealing for any local witnesses as well. “We are at a very early stage in the investigation,” informed Sanders. “We are asking people if they have any video or have seen anything; all help is welcome to get it solved.”