In December 2002, two thieves used a ladder to scale the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Once on the roof, they used a sledgehammer to break a window. The dastardly duo were able to walk past the infrared security system, cameras and roving guards and grab two paintings from Vincent van Gogh’s main gallery, Sea view in Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation emerging from the Reformed Church of Nuenen (1884). Now the BBC reports that Italian authorities recently recovered the masterpieces 14 years after the burglary.
According to Stephanie Kirchgaessner at The Guardian, the paintings were located during an extensive investigation into the Camorra, a powerful group of criminal clans based in and around Naples. In particular, investigators were investigating the Amato-Pagano drug trafficking clan and were tipped off about the paintings by suspected gang leaders who were arrested in January.
Last week, the police were ordered by a judge to seize the clan’s assets. Both paintings were found wrapped in fabric inside a warehouse in the town of Castellammare di Stabia, near Pompeii.
According to the Van Gogh Museum press release, the seascape has a damaged spot in the lower left corner, but otherwise the paintings are in good condition. It is unclear when the works will return to the Netherlands as they will likely be used as evidence in a trial.
“After so many years, I dared not think that they would ever come back,” says Axel Rüger, director of the museum. “We have been waiting for this moment for 14 years and of course we would like to bring them straight home. We will have to show a little patience, but I am convinced that we can count on the support of the Italian authorities.
In 2004, two Dutch art thieves were convicted of stealing the paintings after their DNA was recovered from the scene. The two thieves, Octave Durham and another man identified only as “Henk B”, received prison sentences for the crime; the conviction, however, did not bring authorities closer to finding the van Goghs.
Both paintings had a special meaning. The BBC reports that Sea view in Scheveningen is one of only two seascapes painted by van Gogh depicting the Netherlands. Congregation leaving the Reformed Church of Nuenen was the church where his father was a minister. After his death in 1885, van Gogh added mourners wearing shawls to the painting.
Editor’s Note, October 3, 2016: This story has been updated to note that the Camorra crime syndicate is believed to be based in and around Naples, Italy, not Sicily. We regret the error.