Skip to Content
Life's Rich Pageant

Our Delightful Game Of Cat And Mouse Continues, My Dear Arthur

9:57 AM EDT on September 14, 2023

A handout file photo dated 17 October 2013 made available by the Groninger Museum shows the painting "Spring Garden", the rectory garden in Nuenen in the spring by the painter Vincent van Gogh in Groningen, Netherlands. Van Gogh's work was stolen from the Singer Laren museum on 30 March 2020. The painting was on loan from the Groninger Museum. Vincent van Gogh's work "Spring Garden" stolen from the Singer Laren museum, Groningen, Netherlands - 17 Oct 2013
Marten de Leeuw/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

I should have at least introduced myself. Alas, my nerves got the best of me. Really, to travel all the way to Amsterdam under the cover of night—if you must, I truly recommend La Premiere on Air France—only to ring a doorbell and leave a priceless Vincent van Gogh painting in a plastic bag on the doorstep like some childish prank. He must think I am a fool!

I'm sure you must have heard about it by now: van Gogh's "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen," thought lost to the world of rogues and scoundrels since it was stolen three years ago, has been returned to art detective Arthur Brand in an Ikea bag. My dear, sweet Arthur, still letting the world call you the "Indiana Jones of the Art World." Did you enjoy our latest joust, my delicious little dropje? I appreciate you telling The Guardian, "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.'"

Certainly I could have held on to the painting for longer, but you seemed to be getting bored, and the headlines were becoming more faint and less fabulous. Such a difference from three years ago, my daring heist, smashing through the Singer Laren Museum right as the world closed down to the dreaded coronavirus. Who could pass up such an opportunity—the Dutch countryside on the cusp of tulip season? Beauty is my muse, you silly pannekoeken!

What you and I understand is that "Parsonage" is mud rendered to canvas! It doesn't even have a proper frame! It is crude and muted, all furtive scratching and none of the confident brushwork, certainly not the color, van Gogh would be known for in his later work. It was hideous to lesser thieves, and that gave me the perfect opening, because only a gentleman thief such as myself could appreciate that its true value comes from its place in van Gogh's canon, its illustration of his progression and maturity! It is not some trivial Vermeer to place above the mantle at your chalet in St. Moritz to enjoy with the other potbellied financiers as you spill the Chateau Lafite-Rothschild on the alpaca throw.

How did you feel when you saw the masked brute on the security footage? Obviously someone of my guile must rely on hired muscle to follow intricate instructions as I patiently wait at the getaway scooter. So elegant and fuel-efficient. Ha ha, of course you realized by the time those simple minions I hired were arrested and sent to prison, that I, much like the painting you so coveted, remained in the wind. I could not help but send you a cheeky photo of the painting months later. It was gauche and predictable for the press to call it a ransom! Who cares for snatching insouciant heirs, with their foppish concerns and boorish TikToks! The photograph was simply a postcard to let you know Vincent's work was being well-loved.

But I know you better than you know yourself, Arthur. You live for the game, as do I! This vast network miscreants and crooks you know so well. How else can you explain this naughty little penchant you have for "recovering" stolen artifacts that just seem to wind up on your door step, time after time, with no violence or threat. There was the bedazzled Précieux Sang reliquary. And how could we forget your celebrated return of Picasso's Buste de femme, lost for 20 years and, for at least one night after the door bell rang, yours to devour alone.

How does such a man navigate the waters of the sophisticated thief? Is it the understated, yet classic cashmere turtlenecks he wears? Or, that "bright blue eyes, light, floppy hair and a wry smile," as the BBC described it? How much longer must we do this silly dance, Arthur? You, the handsome detective not afraid to play on both sides of the law, and me, the equally handsome thief whose passion for grand theft hides only loneliness! Can you not see that I was compelled to return this painting to you, and only to you? I may have stolen the van Gogh, but it is you who has captured my heart! Who would have believed all these years we have continued to amuse each other, that our little game would blossom like so many of Vincent's sunflowers, delicate and bursting!

Perhaps this time I will be more forward and bold. Arthur, Cézanne's "The Card Players" is on display at the The Met, in the southwest corner on the second floor. I don't typically care for Cézanne—too much dusty wine held over from the old masters for my taste—but I am sure some Saudi prince or venture capitalist could be strung along quite easily. Unless of course you catch me first! I will be waiting at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle, I will have a tulip in my lapel, and be enjoying an absinthe frappe.

Be seeing you soon, Arthur!

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter