Stolen in 2002, two ‘priceless’ Van Gogh paintings recovered by Italian anti-mafia cops

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 6:10pm

Anti-Mafia police in Naples have recovered two Van Gogh paintings stolen from Amsterdam in 2002, the Van Gogh Museum and organised crime investigators said on Friday.

The museum in a statement on its website on Friday said the paintings, found without their frames, are in “relatively good condition”. It said the two paintings are the 1882 work View at the sea of Scheveningen and a later work, Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.

After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return
Van Gogh Museum Director Alex Rueger

Police in Naples said the paintings, of “priceless value,” were discovered during a raid as part of a crackdown against a Naples-based Camorra crime clan suspected of cocaine trafficking. Naples prosecutors said more details will be given later at a news conference in the southern Italian city.

The paintings were sequestered along with other property, worth “tens of millions of euros”, said the police. The Financial Guard, a branch of the Italian police, often sequesters financial assets of suspected criminals.

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“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” the museum quoted its director Alex Rueger as saying, and expressed gratitude to Italian investigators and police. It is unclear when they will return to Amsterdam. The museum director was planning to attend the news conference.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi informed his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte about the police

operation before the funeral in Jerusalem of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres, a source in Renzi’s office said.

In the 2002 heist, thieves used a ladder to climb onto the museum’s roof and break into the building, escaping by sliding down a rope.

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Two men were later caught and convicted of the theft thanks in part to DNA evidence linking them to the scene. They were sentenced to 4 years and 4 years six months, respectively, but the paintings were not recovered.

The Scheveningen painting is one of only two sea scenes Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands, and “an important example of Van Gogh’s earliest painting style, in which he already appeared rather unique”, the museum said.

The museum said a patch of paint in the lower left corner had been chipped off.

The painting of the Nuenen congregation where Van Gogh’s father worked as minister was made for his mother and finished after his father’s death in 1885. It appears undamaged but further investigation is needed to determine both paintings’ exact condition and restoration needs, the museum said.

Additional reporting by Reuters