Dutch detectives are investigating two apparent “proof of life” photographs of a £5m Vincent van Gogh painting stolen from a museum during the coronavirus lockdown.
The images appear to show Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring alongside a copy of the New York Times published on the day of the painting’s theft.
They have been passed to the police after being obtained by Arthur Brand, a renowned art detective. Brand told Agence France-Presse that the photographs had been “circulating in mafia circles” and had been handed to him by a source he declined to identify.
A spokesman for the Dutch police confirmed to the Guardian that the images were now “part of the investigation” into the theft.
Van Gogh’s masterpiece was stolen in the early hours of 30 March after a thief used a sledgehammer to smash through the reinforced glass front door of the Singer Laren museum, in Laren, a town several miles east of Amsterdam. The museum was closed owing to the pandemic.
Security footage of the raid released by the police in April showed that the thief arrived at the museum on a motorbike, broke in and then ran out with the painting tucked under his right arm.
The photographs obtained by Brand reveal a new scratch on the bottom of the painting, thought to have been picked up during the raid. The back of the artwork can also be seen, providing apparent evidence of its authenticity.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this is the genuine article,” Brand said. “It could simply be that they are trying to find a buyer in the criminal underworld.”
During a press conference the day after the theft, the museum’s director, Jan Rudolph de Lorm, said he was “incredibly pissed off” at the loss of the painting, which had been on loan from the Groninger Museum. It was stolen on the day Van Gogh was born 167 years ago.
The 25cm by 57cm oil-on-paper painting of a vicarage garden is one of a series of works done by Van Gogh between 1883 and 1884 when he was living with his parents in Nuenen, where his father was a minister.
The Singer Laren museum showcases the original collection of the American artist and collector William Singer and his wife, Anna.
In 2007, thieves stole seven statues from the museum’s garden worth an estimated €1.3m, including a cast of the statue The Thinker by the French artist Auguste Rodin. The statue was later found in a damaged state. In 2010 the two thieves responsible were sentenced to four years in prison, which was reduced on appeal to two and nearly three years respectively.