2 Van Gogh paintings recovered by Italian anti-mafia police


ROME (Reuters) – Italian police have found two paintings by Van Gogh stolen from an Amsterdam museum in 2002 hidden on a farm near the stronghold of an organized crime syndicate in the Naples area, investigators said on Friday.

The paintings, discovered without their frames, are in “relatively good condition”, the Van Gogh Museum said in a statement posted on its website. He said the two paintings are the 1882 work “Seascape at Scheveningen” and a later work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen”.

The previous painting contains grains of sand that were lifted from the beach while Van Gogh was working. The other depicts a church in the south of the Netherlands where the artist’s father was pastor.

The recovered masterpieces, propped up on easels, were unveiled to journalists during a press conference in Naples. Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and asked it to send an expert to examine the paintings. Art experts have determined that they are genuine.

“Needless to say, today is a big day for us,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they will be back in their place soon.”

It might take some time. Authorities noted that the paintings, found covered in cotton fabric at the farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia, are part of an investigation into whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the theft or were involved later.

Financial policy. Colonel Giovanni Salerno said investigators investigating the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations were told the Camorra may have had the artwork.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them is usually suspected, as it would be virtually impossible to sell them on the legitimate art market.

With “huge profits” from the drug trade, the Camorra is looking for new ways to invest its ill-gotten wealth, which could include stolen artwork, Salerno said.

Salerno said a person at the farm when the paintings were found “did not say a word” about how they ended up there. He declined to give further details, saying the matter was still under investigation.

Investigators have seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) in assets, including farmland, villas and apartments, which they believe are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice said in a statement.

The organized crime investigation unit of the Financial Guard, a branch of the Italian police, often sequesters the assets of suspected gangsters.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, show “some damage”. He added that it is not known where the paintings have been kept in the 14 years since they were stolen. Thieves broke into the museum overnight and made off with the works in the main exhibition hall, where dozens of Van Gogh paintings were on display.

The seascape work had some paint in the lower left corner broken off, the other had “some minor damage to the edges of the canvas,” according to the museum’s statement. Rueger said the museum owes a debt of gratitude to the Italian authorities.

“After all these years, we no longer dare to count on a possible return,” he said.

The recovered painting Seascape at Scheveningen by Vincent Van Gogh is displayed at a press conference in Naples, Italy on Friday. This painting and another, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, which was stolen from an Amsterdam museum in 2002, were found by Naples investigators among the assets of a Camorra group.


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