The Dutch art detective Arthur Brand announced on Twitter Wednesday, 27 July, the recovery of two works stolen from a private museum in the Netherlands in 2009: Salvador Dalí’s gouache Adolescence (1941) and Tamara de Lempicka’s oil painting La Musicienne (1929), which was shown in Madonna’s music video for Vogue (1990). Both works are said to be in good condition.
The pieces were brazenly stolen during opening hours on 1 May 2009 from the Scheringa Museum of Realist Art, which was located in the village of Spanbroek in the North Holland province and closed in 2011. Several masked robbers threatened staff and visitors at gunpoint and made off with their loot in a matter of minutes.
Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Brand had been trying to track down the works—which he estimates changed hands around ten times—for years and had actively been on the case for eight months after receiving a tip. Brand says a criminal gang, unaware that the works had been stolen when they accepted them as a placeholder for payment from another criminal gang, reached out to him over the telephone. After not hearing back from the group for five or six weeks following negotiations, Brand heard from yet another gang who had also been duped into accepting the works. They were “stuck between a rock and a hard place”, he says, as they feared legal consequences but did not want the works to be destroyed.
They eventually sent a third party to meet with Brand, who promised he would not contact the police if the works were passed on to him. Brand received the Dalí work around two weeks ago, and the De Lempicka piece about a week later, as the group wanted to ensure they would not be arrested. Richard Ellis, the founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad, came to the Netherlands to recover the works for the rightful owners. Brand does not know the identity of the owners, or if the works will remain in the Netherlands or have been brought abroad.
“They have done something we can only appreciate,” Brand says of the criminal gang who returned the art, explaining that the threat of arrest for receipt of stolen goods is often a deterrent for the safe return of stolen art; only about 5% of stolen art is ever recovered. “Everybody’s so happy these pieces are back because they are very important pieces,” he says. “There are only winners in this game.”