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Dutch police make arrest over two museum heists, but Van Gogh painting still missing

Dutch police arrested a suspect today in the theft last year of two valuable paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals from different museums, a spokeswoman said. The paintings, however, remain missing.

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A person is seen smashing their way into a building, then leaving with the famed artist's work. Source: AAP

In a statement posted on Twitter, police spokeswoman Maren Wonder said a 58-year-old man was arrested at his home in the Dutch town of Baarn, 40 kilometres southeast of Amsterdam. His identity was not released, in line with Dutch privacy guidelines.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t yet recovered the paintings and the investigation is continuing,” Wonder said. She called the arrest “a really important step in the investigation”.

Van Gogh's The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884 was snatched from the Singer Laren museum east of Amsterdam in the early hours of March 30, 2020. The museum was closed at the time due to a coronavirus lockdown.

The 25-by-57-centimetre oil-on-paper painting shows a person standing in a garden surrounded by trees with a church tower in the background.

The Hals work, Two Laughing Boys, was stolen some five months later from Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam, 60 kilometres south of Amsterdam.

The Van Gogh painting was on loan from the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands when a burglar smashed through reinforced glass doors to get into the Singer Laren, which is less than 10 kilometres from the town where the suspect was arrested.

Singer Laren spokeswoman Esther Driessen welcomed the arrest and said she hopes it leads detectives to the painting.

“The most important thing is that the painting returns as quickly as possible to the Groninger Museum, where it belongs,” she said.

The Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden had no comment on the arrest. Police said last year that the same Hals painting was stolen in 1988 together with a work by Jacob van Ruisdael. Both were recovered three years later.

In 2011, the two paintings were again stolen and recovered six months later.