Three years after a Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen from a museum in the Netherlands, it has been sensationally returned to a world-famous art detective – wrapped up in an Ikea bag.
Arthur Brand, one of the art world's foremost sleuths, had worked closely with Dutch police since the heist was carried out under the cover of night in March 2020.
Two years after the thief was caught and imprisoned, the painting was still at large – until yesterday.
An anonymous man believed to be connected to the theft contacted Brand, wanting to get the 1884 painting – Spring Garden, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring – off his hands.
"I got contacted by somebody who said: 'Mr Brand, I could turn in the van Gogh, but I don't want to get into trouble'," Brand told reporters in Amsterdam.
After gaining the anonymous contact's confidence, the stolen painting was left in a parcel on Brand's doorstep.
The painting was wrapped in bubble wrap, slipped inside a pillowcase and delivered in a blue Ikea bag.
Some estimates placed the value of the stolen painting at over €5 million, just shy of $8.4 million.
After finding the missing painting on his doorstep, Brand brought the parcel inside before opening it and authenticating the artwork in front of a colleague.
In a video shared to his Instagram followers, Brand said he would hand the painting back to the director of the Singer Museum in Laren, where the painting was originally snatched from.
Afterwards, he said, he was going for a drink with police officers involved in the case.
The painting was coincidentally stolen from the museum on March 30, 2020 – van Gogh's birthday.
The painting had been on loan from another museum in Groningen.
Got a story? Email email@example.com
When the theft took place, the museum was closed off from the public due to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.
The burglar smashed through reinforced glass doors to get into the museum before making off with the painting.
READ MORE: Melbourne teen shot as he slept in his bed
The year after the theft, Brand received "proof-of-life" photos of the painting.
At the time, Brand said the photos had been circulating in Mafia circles.
A suspect was later arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for the theft.
The painting, however, remained at large.
Brand said at the time he believed "stolen artwork was often moved around quickly by criminal gangs" and that the thief probably did not know the location of the artwork at the time of his arrest.
The finding brings to a close a three-and-a-half year operation, in what Brand called "a great day for all van Gogh lovers worldwide".