Museums Thefts News Belgium

Ten paintings stolen from Brussels museum

Works by Kees van Dongen and James Ensor among those missing

Kees van Dongen’s The Thinker, 1907, valued at more than €1m, was one of the more expensive works stolen. Photo: Musée et Jardins van Buuren

Thieves stole ten paintings from the Van Buuren Museum on the outskirts of Brussels on 16 July, including Kees van Dongen’s The Thinker, 1907, valued at more than €1m. What makes the loss particularly poignant is that the paintings came from a family collection, lovingly assembled by the Van Buurens.

The museum is set in an intimate Art Deco villa in the southern suburbs of Brussels. The Dutch banker (and amateur artist) David van Buuren (1886-1955) and his wife Alice (1890-1973) built the house in 1928. They collected 200 paintings and sculptures, ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries. In 1975 their home, with its commissioned furniture, opened as a museum. In June 2013 its symbolist garden was reopened, following a major restoration project.

Thieves broke in through a back door just before 4am on 16 July, according to the curator, Isabelle Anspach. In the black salon they seized the Van Dongen and James Ensor’s Shrimps and Shells, 1894. Near the bottom of the stairs they took a drawing labelled as a Van Gogh, Woman Peeling Potatoes (what the thieves may not have realised is that the attribution is questionable). They then went upstairs to Van Buuren’s office, where they broke a case and stole a number of lesser, small paintings, including a Pieter Brueghel the Younger and a Joachim Patinir.

The raid was conducted very quickly, in just over two minutes, and it is thought the thieves visited the house beforehand. “They knew what they wanted,” Anspach said.

Alarms immediately sounded, but the thieves escaped before the police arrived. Neighbours spotted four men leaving in a BMW. They appeared to be speaking in French, according to the eyewitnesses. So far there have been no arrests. Security at the museum has now been upgraded.

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