Italian police have recovered two paintings worth £77million by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh which were stolen in Amsterdam 14 years ago.
The two works of art – Seascape from 1882 in Scheveningen and a later work, Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen – were found in a seaside town near Naples during an operation against the Mafia group Camorra.
Van Gogh museum director Alex Rueger thanked the police, saying: “After all these years, you no longer dare to count on a possible return.”
Museum experts said the paintings, found without their frames, are in relatively good condition, although they show “some damage”.
Financial police have seized “assets worth tens of millions of euros from a Camorra group involved in international cocaine trafficking”, according to a statement.
They said the assets included the paintings, which were ‘priceless’ – but Italian investigating authorities said the paintings were worth £77million.
In the 2002 heist, included in a list of “ten art crimes” compiled by the FBI, the thieves used a ladder to climb onto the roof of the museum and break into the building, escaping by sliding the along a rope.
Two men were later arrested and convicted of the theft thanks in part to DNA evidence linking them to the scene. They were sentenced to four years and four years and six months in prison respectively, but the paintings have not been found.
The Scheveningen painting is one of only two sea scenes that Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands, and “an important example of Van Gogh’s early style of painting, in which he already appeared rather unique”, said the Museum.
The painting of the Nuenen congregation where Van Gogh’s father worked as a minister was made for his mother and completed after his father’s death in 1885.
It appears intact, but further investigation is needed to determine the exact condition of the paintings and any restoration needs, the museum said.
It is unclear when the paintings will return to Amsterdam, as the paintings could be used as evidence in court.
Additional reports by agencies