Two priceless Van Gogh paintings have been recovered by Italian police 14 years after they were stolen from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

After a ‘massive’ police investigation into the whereabouts of the missing works, stolen in 2002 by the Italian Cammora group while the paintings were on loan to the Van Gogh Museum from the Dutch government, the paintings were found in remarkably good condition, despite their 14-year absence.

The paintings, Seascape at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884/5), were initially stolen in 2002, in a robbery that baffled investigators, as infra-red technology and security guards were both being used to protect the works on display.

However, using a 15-foot ladder, a rope and a sledgehammer, the two works, now valued in the region of $30 million, were stolen and had been lost ever since. Two Dutch citizens were initially arrested and jailed for the theft but have maintained their innocence.

“The two paintings will be used as evidence in the case against the group, but the Van Gogh museum hopes that they will be returned to them soon”

The paintings were recovered as part of a massive investigation commissioned by the Italian Public Prosecutions Department and conducted by a specialised Guardia di Finanza team, and were just part of assets worth millions of euros seized from the Naples-based Cammora mafia.

The two paintings will be used as evidence in the case against the group but the Van Gogh museum hopes that they will be returned to them soon.

“Both have had their frames removed, and it is apparent that they were not preserved under suitable conditions”

The curator responsible for inspecting the authenticity and provenance of the works confirmed that “they are the real paintings”, and was surprised that they seemed to be in fairly good condition despite the journey they have been though.

Both have had their frames removed and it is apparent that they were not preserved under suitable conditions. Both have damage around the edges, presumably from the removal of the frames. Seascape at Scheveningen has some damage to its bottom left corner but more research will have to be done to determine their exact condition.

“Seascape at Scheveningen is the only painting in the museum from Van Gogh’s period in The Hague (1881-3)”

The two pieces are “unique paintings, of major art historical interest”, according to a statement from the Van Gogh museum. Seascape at Scheveningen is the only painting in the museum from Van Gogh’s period in The Hague (1881-3), and is only one of two seascapes that he painted during his years in the Netherlands. It is “a striking example of Van Gogh’s early style of painting, already showing his highly individual character”

Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is a small canvas that is thought to have been painted for Van Gogh’s mother in early 18.84. It shows the Church of which Van Gogh’s father was minister, and was reworked in 1885 after his father’s death; the shawled figures in the foreground are thought to be mourners.

Is it unclear when the paintings will be returned to the Van Gogh museum, but their return fills a gap in the collection and their knowledge.

It is sad that the paintings have been damaged but the fact that they have been recovered at all is a surprise that many weren’t expecting. Once the criminal case has been completed, their fate will be decided, and they will be open to the public once again.

Ellen Smithies

Image credit: Kuunstkuultur via Flickr

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1 Comment

  1. P McCourt
    October 3, 2016 at 10:29 — Reply

    The article is interesting and I’m pleased to have read it but, without wishing to be unkind, it really could do with copy editing.

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