© Provided by The iThe paintings were among five Bacon works of art stolen in a daring raid in 2015 (Photo: Policia Nacional)
When Arthur Brand got word that underworld buyers were interested in two stolen paintings by Francis Bacon, he used an unusual ploy to stop the sale.
The renowned art detective was passed a video by a contact in which the thieves showed off one of the paintings by the late Irish painter.
The paintings were among five Bacon works of art valued at £25.5m which were stolen in a daring raid in 2015 from a house in an exclusive part of Madrid, near the parliament and therefore ringed with security.
Three paintings were recovered two years after the raid by police, but two were still missing.
Brand passed the thieves' video to the media and alerted the police, ensuring the unwelcome publicity frightened off buyers. "I got hold of this video through people who I cannot name, of course. This time I knew they were trying to sell [the paintings] abroad for ?4m [£3.4m]. If they would have succeeded in selling them to a country far abroad, we would never see them again," Brand tells the i. "You have to stop it - you have to act."
The paintings remain missing, but at least Brand stopped them disappearing into the hands of shady buyers.
It was another success for the art sleuth, who recently published a book in Britain about his most famous case, Hitler's Horses: The Incredible True Story of the Detective who Infiltrated the Nazi Underworld. The book, whose film rights were sold to MGM, reveals how Brand, together with the German police and a journalist, recovered two giant bronze horses which Adolf Hitler adored and which once stood outside the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.
As the Russian army closed in on the German capital in the dying days of the Second World War, it was presumed that they had been destroyed. Their recovery is a thrilling tale involving a modern-day neo-Nazi, a far-right German group and the Russian army.
"Finding these huge statues that everybody thought had been destroyed was my biggest success," says Brand. "So much has been written about the Third Reich yet there was still one mystery to be solved, and we did it. The Wall Street Journal called it the most interesting find in decades."
The 51-year-old Dutchman, who lives in Amsterdam, is something of a workaholic, who has said he must be on call 24 hours a day in case he receives a tip-off.
He was proved correct when, in 2019, he recovered Buste de Femme, a Picasso painting said to be worth about £70m.
After investigating the painting, which was stolen from a sheikh's yacht in 1999, he was approached by two men representing a Dutch businessman.
The men had bought the Picasso, unaware that it was stolen and took it round to Brand's flat, where it hung for one unforgettable night.
"It was great to have such an important painting, which was one of Picasso's favourites, hanging on your wall. We were right on time to save the painting, which would have been lost - after all what do thieves know," he says.
The same year, Brand also recovered Oscar Wilde's gold ring, which had been stolen 17 years before from the University of Oxford, where the Irish playwright studied. Initially, the university did not believe he had found the original ring, but Brand insisted that Wilde had an inscription on the outside of the ring rather than the inside.
"Oscar Wilde's ring was incredibly good. I had it on my hand for two weeks," Brand recalls. "What more do you want in life? He is one of my favourite writers."
The detective, who has recovered more than 200 valuable artefacts, was inspired to take up his career by tales his grandfather would tell about a forger who sold a fake Vermeer to Hermann Göring during the Second World War.
"Han van Meegeren was in school with my grandfather. He was very famous because he used to fake Vermeers," says Brand. "During the Second World War, he managed to sell one to Göring, the second man in the Third Reich. He thought: 'Let's give this man a fake.' That takes some guts to sell a fake to a man who would kill for less."
As a student in Spain, Brand got a taste for hunting down lost art when he went searching for treasure.
Brand is on good terms with police forces across the world but also depends on contacts with criminals, with whom he maintains an uneasy relationship.
"The public is always on [the thieves'] side," he says. "In films like Ocean 11 and the James Bond movies, they have a glamorous image. I don't see that at all. You don't touch anything which is not yours, either a bicycle or a painting,.
"On the other hand, they are my enemies, I do have to respect them, to take them seriously," he adds. "Sometimes when I see how they do it, I think they are so smart. To catch a thief, you have to think like them."
Brand once bumped into Octave Durham, a burglar who stole two Van Gogh paintings in 2002 in a professional raid which took three minutes and 40 seconds. The paintings were recovered from a Mafia drug lord in 2016.
Though natural adversaries, the art detective and famous thief ended up exchanging views over a beer. "Durham once told me: 'The more they secure a museum, the more I want to go in' - he sees it like a personal challenge," laughs Brand.