Two Vincent van Gogh paintings that were stolen in a burglary more than 14 years ago went on display again on Tuesday at the Amsterdam museum dedicated to the Dutch master.
“They are back!” said Axel Rueger, director of the Van Gogh Museum, calling their return “the most special days in the history of our museum”.
Paintings, the 1882 Sea view in Scheveningenand 1884-85 work Congregation leaving the Reformed Church of Nuenenwere discovered last year by Italian police investigating suspected Italian gangsters for cocaine trafficking.
It was not an easy find. The two paintings were wrapped in cotton sheets, stuffed in a box and hidden behind a wall in a toilet, said General Gianluigi D’Alfonso of Italy’s financial police, who was on hand at the museum for the unveiling ceremony. .
The paintings were found on a farm near Naples as Italian police seized 20 million euros (about C$28.8 million) worth of assets, including villas, apartments and even a small plane. Investigators say the assets are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale.
“After years shrouded in darkness, they can now shine again,” said Jet Bussemaker, the Dutch minister for education, culture and science, as an orange screen slid to reveal the two paintings. behind a glass wall.
The coveted thieves Sunflowers, the potato eaters
One of the two men found guilty of stealing the paintings told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he originally wanted to steal Van Gogh’s famous painting. Sunflowers paint, but it was too well protected.
Another well-known work by Van Gogh, the potato eaterswas too big to fit through the hole Octave Durham and his accomplice smashed in the security glass to enter the museum after climbing a fence and using a ladder to climb onto its roof.
Durham, who was sentenced to more than three years in prison after being found guilty in 2004, told De Telegraaf the paintings were sold to the mafia after a Dutch criminal who agreed to buy them was murdered .
It is not only a miracle that the works were recovered, but it is even more miraculous that they are in relatively unscathed condition.– Axel Rueger, director of the Van Gogh Museum
The paintings are now once again on display at the museum before being taken to its conservation workshop for repair. Experts said they suffered remarkably little damage even as thieves in 2002 ripped them from their frames and fled.
“It’s not just a miracle that the works were recovered, but it’s even more miraculous that they are in relatively unscathed condition,” Rueger said.
The museum director was on holiday when the call came last year from Italian authorities who believed they had recovered the paintings. He didn’t celebrate right away; he had received calls like this before.
“I was hopeful but also a little hesitant because over the years we’ve had multiple occasions where people have called us, contacted us, saying they know something about the whereabouts of the works. And every time it was wrong, the trail went cold,” he said.
“The path has been strewn with disappointments.”
But museum experts dispatched to Italy to verify the authenticity of the works quickly turn Rueger’s doubts into delight.
“It was something we had been secretly hoping for all these years,” he said.
Essential to the museum’s collection
The two small works are not typical of van Gogh’s later and better-known works, but are still essential pieces for the museum’s collection, Rueger said.
The Seascape of Scheveningen, with a fishing boat and rough seas under a typically gray and cloudy Dutch sky, is one of van Gogh’s earliest works. It is the only painting in the museum’s collection painted during his stay in The Hague. It suffered a missing rectangular chip in the lower left corner.
The painting in Nuenen Church depicts the village where his parents lived.
“He had painted as a gift to his mother, so it’s a very personal and emotional connection,” Rueger said.
Rueger said the paintings are now back for good in a museum, which houses dozens of works by van Gogh, whose paintings fetch millions of dollars on the rare occasions they are auctioned.
“Security, I can assure you, is now Triple-A grade, so I’m very confident that everything is safe in the museum,” he said.
A look at some other works of art that have been recovered after being stolen in Europe:
- February 2008: Three men, wearing ski masks and dark clothes, entered the Buehrle Museum in Zurich half an hour before closing time on a Sunday. While one of them used a pistol to force museum staff to the ground, the other two stole four paintings by Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet worth US$163 million . Shocked police called it one of the biggest heists in European history. Paintings by Van Gogh and Monet were recovered later that month, while Cézanne appeared in 2012.
- August 2003: A Leonardo da Vinci painting worth US$65 million has been stolen from Drumlanrig Castle in southern Scotland by two men who joined a public tour and overpowered a guide. He was recovered four years later.
- December 2000: Hooded thieves stole a self-portrait by Rembrandt and two paintings by Renoir worth an estimated US$36 million from the National Waterfront Museum in Stockholm, using a motorboat to escape. All tables have been recovered.
- November 1983: Seven Italian Renaissance masterpieces have been stolen from the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary. Experts have estimated the value of the paintings at US$7 million. All of the paintings, which included works by Raphael and Tintoretto, were recovered within a year. Some were found in a bag that had been removed from the Danube.
- October 1982: Eight paintings were stolen from the Norwegian National Gallery in Oslo. Seven of them, valued at US$5.55 million and including masterpieces by Picasso, Rembrandt and van Gogh, were recovered almost two years later near Frankfurt.
- April 1974: Jan Vermeer Lady writing a letter with her maid was among 19 paintings stolen from the home of Sir Alfred Beit in County Wicklow, Ireland. The paintings, recovered eight days after the theft, are valued at US$19.2 million, including $6.9 million for the Vermeer.
- august 1911: Undoubtedly the most famous painting in the world, that of Leonardo da Vinci mona-lisa, was stolen from the Louvre in Paris. He was picked up in Italy two years later. Vincenzo Perruggia, an employee of the Paris museum, served a year and 15 days in prison for the theft.