The mystery of two missing paintings at the Kunsthaus in Zurich

Dirk de Bray, Narcissus and other flowers in a glass vase on a marble slab, 1673, oil on canvas (left). Robert van den Hoecke, Soldiers in their encampment, mid 17th centuryeoil on canvas (right). Kunsthaus Zürich, Dauerleihgabe Schweizer Privatsammlung, 2016

The museum, endowed with one of the most prestigious art collections in Switzerland, is not able to specify the fate of these two canvases.

Since the beginning of the year, the museum has lost track of the two small format paintings, framed and under glass: a Robert van den Hoecke from the middle of the 17the century depicting soldiers in their encampment and a still life with a vase of flowers by Dirck de Bray dating from 1673, acknowledged the Kunsthaus in Zürich in a press release released on Tuesday.

“As a theft can no longer be ruled out, the museum called the police and filed a complaint on January 13”, specifies the Kunsthaus which has set up a crisis unit. These two small paintings – which are on permanent loan from private collectors – had been taken down at the same time as nearly 700 other works in order to be cleaned and restored by the services of the museum, where a fire had broken out on the night of 2 to August 3.

“The possibility that, despite the implementation of important security measures, works are currently untraceable, shakes us”acknowledged director Ann Demeester. “For generations, collectors have entrusted their treasures to the Kunsthaus. Nearly three-quarters of our collection of paintings and sculptures are private donations or permanent loans”admitted the director, adding that her establishment had every intention of learning the lessons of this episode but that the absolute priority remains to find the two works.

No other item, among all those taken down after the fire, is missing from the meticulous inventory that was carried out. “We keep our eyes and ears open in case the works are still in the house”added Ms. Demeester.

The museum has had both paintings listed in the Art Lost Register, the world’s largest database of lost and stolen works of art. The Kunsthaus is also conducting its own investigation. According to the museum’s website, the Kunsthaus’ collections include nearly 4,000 paintings and sculptures and 95,000 graphic works, which range from the 13th century to the present day. About 1000 of them are on permanent display.

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