‘Art world’s Indiana Jones’ recovers another set of stolen paintings

Art sleuth Arthur Brand says the works taken from Medemblik town hall were dropped off at his home.


He may not wield a whip or navigate through treacherous caves but a Dutch art detective is further enhancing his reputation as the ‘Indiana Jones of the art world’.

Arthur Brand, made headlines last month when he helped recover a stolen Van Gogh stuffed in an Ikea bag. The art investigator has now found a further six paintings, including a portrait of William of Orange and the first depiction of a 7th-century king.

Thieves stole the paintings from the town hall of Medemblik, in the north of the country, last month. While the monetary value of the haul is not huge – about €100,000  – the paintings are considered of great historical significance. They include the earliest known portrait of Radbod, the king of the Frisians from AD680.

Brand told Dutch media that he had been at home watching football at home on Friday night when the doorbell rang with a delivery.  “Holland was losing to France 2-0,” he said when they called at 10:30 p.m.

The man – who was reportedly uninvolved with the heist – asked Brand for help to unload the package. “I asked him, ‘What are we going to unload?’. He said with a smile, ‘Well, the paintings of Medemblik’,.”

After examining the incredible trove, Brand called the police. 

“I think this was a direct result of the recovery of the Van Gogh (The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring) last month,” Brand told the Art Newspaper. “One of the reasons the Van Gogh was returned was that they couldn’t do anything with it.”

He added: “Most likely [the Medemblik thieves] got scared and maybe there was a possibility the police was on their tracks already. 

Selling stolen pieces of heritage, he continued, is difficult. Art thieves often find themselves with few options after the initial crime. “You either burn it, which is a bad idea because when you are caught later you get extra prison time, or [you] dump it at my doorstep,” he said.

After the initial burglary in September, Brand told Dutch press that the thieves should have stolen six bikes, as these would be easier to resell.

A spokeswoman from the Medemblik municipality said they were surprised when they “had a message completely out of the blue” about the find. “It’s really extraordinary and a bit of a mystery, but for us, it is really good news. We are especially pleased that the painting of Radboud is back because it really belongs to our municipality” she told The Art Newspaper.

The authorities in Medemblik had offered a reward of €10,000 for the safe return of the paintings but this was unclaimed.

Deputy Mayor of Medemblik, Jeroen Broeders said in a statement that “sometimes you only know how much something is worth to you when it isn’t there any more and that is certainly the case with these paintings.”

Brand said he would not be collecting the reward. “I told them to give me a good book voucher,” he joked.

The ‘Indiana Jones of the art world’ now has his eye on recovering other works, including a masterpiece by Frans Hals called Two Laughing Boys and paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston worth an estimated €474 million ($500 million) from the likes of Vermeer, Manet, and Rembrandt that were stolen in 1990.

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