Detective Arthur Brand, the ‘Indiana Jones of the Art World’: ‘You Don’t Find Stolen Art at the Salvation Army, You Have to Talk to Criminals’
The media calls him the ‘Indiana Jones of the Art World’, police and criminals have a less flattering description: they call him an idiot.
Be as it may, art detective Arthur Brand gets things done. From his modest apartment in east Amsterdam, he has just helped recover a stolen Vincent van Gogh painting, worth more than six million dollars.
‘Spring Garden, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring’, by Van Gogh.
The classic picture, called Spring Garden, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, was delivered wrapped in a bloody pillowcase, inside an IKEA bag.
It was delivered by a criminal, a person uninvolved with the theft who had been granted ‘amnesty’ to return the piece.
The Guardian reported:
“‘I have two rules’, says Brand, 54, nursing a black Earl Grey and taking a single bite of his miniature stroopwafel. ‘I never break the law because I always work with police, and I never give up informants. Otherwise they will shoot you dead. And if you tell people they can know where you live, they trust you’.”
Brand has been featured in the Dutch television show ‘De Kunstdetective’ and his book, ‘Hitler’s Horses’, has been translated into 15 languages and optioned for film by MGM.
“Today, his work is driven by research and the gossip mill of his ‘enormous’ criminal network. ‘In many cases, [artifacts] go from one hand to the other in the criminal underworld as a bargaining chip or down payment’, he says. ‘If there’s no reward, they burn it. That’s why I try to build a personal relationship with these people so when they hear something, they give me a call’.”
Brand explains that police officers are starting to realize you cannot do without the help of citizens like him.
High profile stolen art it’s hard to sell, and it becomes a liability. A thief named Nils M got eight years in jail for stealing the Van Gogh, and anyone found with the paintings risked a penalty.
“’This text message came three weeks ago, at six in the evening: ‘Mr Brand, do you have a duty of confidentiality?’ I said: ‘I’m not a priest, but if I give my word, I keep it.’ […] One of the reasons he turned the Van Gogh in was because there was no reward and nobody wanted to touch it. Second, this is cultural heritage. Sometimes bad people do good things‘.”
“He presents himself as a hapless but lucky amateur. He jokes: ‘All the police forces I work with – the Dutch, the English, the Italians, the Germans – have all said to me: ‘Arthur, we are friends. We have cracked so many cases. But in the end, you are really an idiot.’ And, on the other hand, the informants say: ‘Arthur, you keep your word. But we all agree you are an idiot’.’”
Besides the return of the Van Gogh, two other high profile artifacts have been in the news this week: An ornate golden relic called ‘the Blood of Jesus’ was returned to the Catholic Church, and a 1.5 tons bronze horse was reunited with its twin statue in a German museum.
The connection between the three? They were all recovered by Brand.
The Telegraph reported:
“Brand, a 53-year-old Dutchman, has neither a policing background nor a high security office in which to conduct his international investigations, often involving sprawling criminal networks and foreign police forces. He works mostly alone at home in Amsterdam, pursuing priceless stolen paintings and artifacts on the phone using a phone book filled with criminals and sleuths. In nine out of ten cases he is asked to look at, he doesn’t even receive a fee.”
Dutch police came to him about the Van Gogh immediately after it was stolen, in a ‘smash and grab’ in 2020.
“'[I]t’s Dutch cultural heritage’, says Brand, speaking over the phone from his flat in Amsterdam. “They called me and said there is a Van Gogh that has been stolen. Keep your ears open. […] I started investigating this case at the same time as the police’.”
Stolen art goes from one criminal group to another. Brand is ‘always one group behind’.
“’You cannot sell it on the black market because no one wants to touch it. In some cases a drug lord will buy it because he still thinks he can get a lower sentence. That doesn’t work anymore’.”
The man with the Van Gogh messaged Brand during a party, and said he was sitting in the square outside.
“’I went there, it was on a bench, under a tree, it’s dark. We sat down together outside the party because it was warm. […] You don’t find stolen art at the Salvation Army so of course you have to talk to people in the criminal world’, he says.”
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