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At around 10.30 AM on Sunday, August 15, two thieves armed with guns attempted to steal Monet’s ‘De Voorzaan en de Westerhem’ (1871) from the Zaans Museum.
The Zaans Museum, located at Zaanse Schans, houses cultural-historical and regional collections examining the residential and industrial culture of the Zaan area.
In 2015, the museum gained a painting from the Zaan period (June 4 – October 8 1871) painted by renowned French impressionist Claude Monet. Monet, famous for his work ‘Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies’ (1899), depicts compelling landscapes while commenting on the harmonious energy humans crave from nature.
This painting, which depicts boats floating along the River Zaan, is a muted landscape painting purchased by the museum in 2015 for over €1.16 million.
It is speculated that Monet painted this river scene on a trip to Zaandam in 1871: the scene depicts a view from the jetty of a hotel where Monet stayed with his wife and son for four months. Windmills can be seen in the background of the painting, which celebrates the tranquillity of the Dutch riverside.
According to the museum, Zaandam was a source of inspiration for Monet, who created 25 paintings and nine city sketches. Although famous in France for his abstract depictions of water lilies and his lush garden, Monet was not known in the Netherlands during his visit. In fact, being labelled an impressionist was initially intended as an insult and was not coined by the press until 1874.
On August 15, two thieves fired gunshots while trying to flee the Zaans museum with Monet’s ‘De Voorzaan en de Westerhem’. Although no one was injured during the botched robbery, a fight broke out between one of the thieves and a bystander who intervened as the thieves were fleeing, reports AD.
During the scuffle, the thief dropped the painting and fled the scene with his partner on a black motorcycle. After being inspected for damage (which resulted in the museum closing for a day), the painting was returned to its original spot on the Tuesday after the robbery.
One of the two suspects who successfully fled the robbery scene turned himself over to the police and was arrested on Tuesday evening. Although the police would not confirm the thief’s identity to the newspaper, it was proposed by art detective Arthur Brand that one of the thieves was 49-year-old Henk B. from Amsterdam.
Brand tells De Telegraaf that, “recently, there was again a request from serious organised crime to steal art, so that it can be used as a means of exchange for lower punishments. I suspect that Henk B. tried to steal the work for this reason.”
In 2002, Henk B. and Okkie Durham stole two paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. In 2017, more than a decade after the heist, museum director Axel Rüger celebrated the return of the two van Gogh’s paintings stolen by the art criminals.
After being confiscated by police from a mafia safehouse in Italy, van Gogh’s ‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ (1882) and ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen’ (1884–85) were returned to the van Gogh Museum in March 2017.
Henk B. and Okkie Durham were sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and had to pay damages of €350,000 each. Still, this theft was listed as one of the top 10 art crimes by the FBI.