BERLIN — A Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen early Monday from a small museum in Laren in the Netherlands, just 20 miles southeast of Amsterdam, on what would have been the artist’s 167th birthday.
“I feel enormous anger and sadness,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, the museum’s director, said in a telephone interview. “Because especially in these dark days that we are in, I feel so strongly that art is here to comfort us, to inspire us and to heal us.”
The police were called to the museum at 3:15 a.m., when an alarm went off. By the time they got there, the thief or thieves were already gone, said a spokeswoman for the Dutch police.
All the police found was a shattered glass door and a bare spot on the wall where the painting was displayed. Hours later, the authorities announced that the work, “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring,” was taken.
The heist comes as museums in much of Europe and the United States are closed in attempts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. It also comes eight years after a spectacular breach at a museum in Rotterdam, where thieves made off with seven paintings valued at more than 100 million euros by forcing an emergency exit, exposing the relatively weak security systems at some art museums.
Coronavirus or not, guards are not usually posted at the museum overnight. The alarm system is linked straight to the local police.
“They knew what they were doing, going straight for the famous master,” Mr. de Lorm said. The police agreed that it would have taken minutes from the time of forced entry to leaving the premises.
The painting was on loan from the Groninger Museum for a special exhibition, “Mirror of the Soul,” which was to run from January to May. “It’s an early picture, before Arles and before Paris, so it is darker and less recognizable as a van Gogh,” said Andreas Blühm, the director of the Groninger.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, museums in the Netherlands closed on March 13, and the Singer Laren had announced that it would be closed until at least June 1.
“It was a very successful exhibition, attracting over 5,000 visitors a week; that is a lot of us,” Mr. de Lorm said.
The picture was painted in 1884 when van Gogh, then 30, moved back in with his parents, who, according to Mr. Blühm, were unconvinced of his career as an artist.
“It is one of our main works of art,” Mr. Blühm said, noting he hoped it would be found. “But every piece of art that is stolen from a public museum is art that is stolen from society.”
Asked whether the artist’s birthday figured in the heist, Mr. de Lorm said the thieves probably did not know.
“It’s just strange coincidence, synchronicity — that sometimes happens in life,” he said.