Frans Hals painting worth €15 million stolen a third time
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    Frans Hals painting worth €15 million stolen a third time

    Credit: Wikipedia (cropped)

    A painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals has been stolen for the third time, with one art detective stating the theft may have been ordered.

    The masterpiece was taken once again from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden, a small museum in the Dutch town of Leerdam. Police were called to the museum on Wednesday night, around 03:30 AM, but were unable to apprehend the thieves who had forced their way in through the back door.

    The painting of two laughing boys with a mug of beer, titled similarly, was painted by Antwerp-born Frans Hals in 1626. His work includes the ‘Laughing Cavalier’. Hals is celebrated alongside famous Dutch painters of the 17th century like Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn.

    The artwork, valued at €15 million, was stolen twice before in 1988 and 2011. Both times, the thieves also took a painting by lesser-known painter Jacob van Ruisdael, titled ‘Forest with flowering elderberry tree’.

    Police were able to track the paintings down after three years following the first theft in 1988. In 2011, the paintings were recovered after six months following a police investigation into four men who tried to sell the artworks on the black market.

    Following the previous break-ins, the Leerdam museum had increased its security, though art detective Arthur Brand told the BBC that “it’s very difficult to secure small museums, as it costs too much money.”

    “If they want your stuff, they’ll get in,” Brand said. He added that he believed the painting was “stolen to order”.

    The art detective told De Volkskrant that the painting may be used to negotiate a reduced prison sentence, though it is unclear whose sentence that would be. In 1994, convicted hashish-dealer Kees Houtman returned two Van Gogh-paintings to reduce his sentence.

    “Now that the Van Gogh museum is too well secured, criminals opt for this Van Hals painting, which has been stolen twice before,” Brand said, adding that the paintings may not be able to help criminals now that the Dutch government will no longer buy stolen art.

    Amée Zoutberg
    The Brussels Times