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Dutch police arrest man over theft of Van Gogh and Hals paintings 

Dutch police have arrested a 58-year-old man on suspicion of stealing two paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals from museums in the Netherlands last year.

The man was held at his home in the central town of Baarn over the thefts of Van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring and Hals’s Two Laughing Boys.

Police said they had not recovered either of the paintings. The Van Gogh is valued at up to €6m (£5m).

“For months, intensive investigations into the robbery of both paintings were conducted under the leadership of the public prosecution service,” they said.

The Van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam on 30 March while it was closed due to coronavirus restrictions. The theft happened on what would have been the 19th-century painter’s 167th birthday.

Two months later, the Dutch art detective Arthur Brand received two “proof of life” photos of the Van Gogh alongside a dated front page of the New York Times newspaper.

Parsonage Garden was painted relatively early in Van Gogh’s career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist works such as Sunflowers and vivid self-portraits.

Detail from Two Laughing Boys by Frans Hals. Photograph: Ilvy Njiokiktjien/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Two Laughing Boys by the 17th-century Dutch master Hals was stolen in a burglary in August from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden Museum in Leerdam.

The painting, which features a pair of laughing boys with a mug of beer, was previously stolen from the museum in 2011 and 1988. It was recovered after six months and three years respectively.

“Both paintings have not yet resurfaced with this arrest. The search continues unabated,” the police said. “This arrest is an important step in the investigation.”

Brand – known as the Indiana Jones of the art world for finding several lost paintings – hailed the news of the arrest. “Another huge success for Dutch police,” he tweeted. “The plot thickens…”

Van Gogh’s works have been a frequent target of crime. Two masterpieces went back on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2004, two years ago after they were stolen.

The paintings – the 1882 View of the Sea at Scheveningen and the 1884-85 Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen – were recovered by Italian investigators in September 2016 when they raided a home belonging to a mafia drug baron near Naples.

Previously, three Van Goghs that were stolen from the Noordbrabants Museum in 1990 resurfaced when a Dutch criminal made a deal with prosecutors.

Hals was a contemporary of fellow masters Rembrandt and Vermeer during the so-called Dutch golden age, a flowering of trade, science and art in the Netherlands spanning the 17th century.

He is best known for works including The Laughing Cavalier, which hangs in the Wallace Collection in London, and The Gypsy Girl, housed in the Louvre, Paris.

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