Two paintings by Vincent van Gogh stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 have been found by anti-Mafia police in Italy.
The works, “Seascape at Scheveningen” (1882) and “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen” (1884-85), were recovered during a police operation targeting a Mafia gang involved in the international trafficking of cocaine, Naples police said on Friday. The total value of assets seized by police was 20 million euros ($22.4 million).
“We are well aware that international drug traffickers, after accumulating illicit money, try to invest it either in the legal economy or to acquire new assets, as happened with these works of extraordinary art that has been recovered”, said Giorgio Toschi, general commander of the army. The Italian Guardia di Finanza, a police force dedicated to investigating financial crimes.
“We have been waiting for this moment for 14 years,” said Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum. “Naturally the only thing you want is to take them straight home.”
The works are in “relatively good condition”, the museum said. The frames of both paintings had been removed and the corner of ‘Seascape at Scheveningen’, the museum’s only example of a painting from Van Gogh’s period in The Hague, suffered some damage. It is not known when the works will be returned to the museum.
The paintings were stolen by two thieves in a daring burglary in December 2002 and were valued at 4 million euros at the time. According to Dutch court documents, the duo used a ladder to enter the museum through its roof. In 2004, the two men in their thirties were sentenced to prison terms of 4 and 4 and a half years.
Christopher Marinello, managing director of London-based Art Recovery Group, said its ArtClaim database includes around 34 works by Van Gogh that have been reported as stolen. The Art Loss Register has approximately 200 Van Goghs reported as stolen, lost, or with authenticity issues. “It is encouraging news that after all this time important paintings can still be located in the criminal underworld,” he said. “The criminal world knows the importance of owning stolen works of art.”
Nienke Bakker, curator of Van Gogh paintings at the Van Gogh Museum, called the works “irreplaceable”. “Seascape at Scheveningen” is one of only two seascapes Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands and an important example of his early painting style, she said.
Two years after completing this work, the artist started “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” as a gift for his sick mother. When his father died in 1885, he reworked the painting by adding a group of mourners in front of the church. “It’s a very emotional image,” Ms. Bakker said.
—Maarten van Tartwijk in Amsterdam contributed to this article.
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