View of the Sea at Scheveningen, one of Van Gogh paintings stolen from Van Gogh Museum in 2004. Image: Van Gogh Museum
ITALY –Two Vincent van Gogh paintings that were stolen from a museum in Amsterdam more than a decade ago have been recovered by anti-mafia police in Naples, Italy.
News of the recovery came Friday from the Van Gogh Museum. The announcement came after museum curators inspected the two paintings at the request of Italian authorities. According to the museum, curators “drew a firm conclusion: They are the real paintings!”
Stolen from the museum in 2002, the theft of the two Van Gogh paintings generated intense conversations across the globe. The paintings have been missing for 14 years. The art historical value of the Van Gogh paintings for the collection is huge, and the museum is looking forward to their return.
One of the paintings is View of the Sea at Scheveningen. The 1882 oil on canvas measuring 34.5 cm x 51.0 cm is the only painting at the museum dating to van Gogh’s period in The Hague (1818-1883). It is one of two seascapes Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands. It depicts people at Scheveningen seashore. Under a turbulent sky and in stormy waters, they welcome boats and ships. The painting bears Van Gogh’s signature brush strokes even in those early days.
The other painting is Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884. Van Gogh painted this piece for his mother. The oil on canvas painting measures 41.3 cm x 32.1 cm. It depicts a congregation leaving the Reformed Church community in the Brabant village of Nuenen where Van Gogh’s father was the Minister.
The initial painting did not have churchgoers. However, soon after the death of his father in 1885, Van Gogh reworked the painting, adding churchgoers in the foreground. In the foreground are several women in shawls worn in times of mourning. Characterized by dull gray and brown color scheme, the painting with its strong biographical undertones has an emotion value.
Done on a small canvas, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, is an important historical painting. It is the only painting in the Van Gogh museum’s collection featuring the church. Additionally, the painting has its original stretcher frame. But more importantly, the painting had an original frame, which was covered in splashes of paint, a consequence of Van Gogh cleaning his brushes on it.
The recovery of the stolen Van Gogh paintings is a major source of joy and celebration at the Van Gogh Museum. “The paintings have been found!” said Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum. For someone who had lost hope that these important paintings will ever surface again, his excitement was understandable.
Axel Rüger noted that the museum owned a debt of gratitude to Dutch and Italian authorities whose efforts led to the recovery of the Van Gogh paintings. A specialized Guardia di Finanza team discovered the paintings during a drug raid on the Camorra crime clan. In addition to the priceless paintings, Italian police also seized properties valued at tens of millions of Euros.
The two stolen Van Gogh paintings have sustained some damages. A part of the damage was due to inadequate preservation. The curators that inspected the paintings identified other damages. The museum notes:
The frames round both paintings have been removed. The painting, Seascape at Scheveningen (1882) has been damaged. The paint in the bottom left corner has broken away on a surface of circa 5 x 2 cm. The stolen canvas Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884/85) looks undamaged at first sight, apart from a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas.”
The theft of the Van Gogh paintings in 2002 continues to mystify detectives. According to reports, the burglars climbed a ladder to access the roof. After smashing a reinforced glass window with a hammer or an ax, they dropped into the secured museum. This was just before 8 a.m.
Although museum alarms were set off when the windows were broken, the burglars were still able to escape with the paintings. They climbed down a rope to the street and disappeared before security arrived. Art detectives are still trying to find answers to how the thieves evaded the museum’s security systems, including infrared systems and cameras. The stealth of the buglers engendered speculations that this could have been an inside job. As detectives continue to put all the puzzles together, Director Axel Rüger is ecstatic that the paintings have been found. He notes:
As detectives continue to put all the puzzles together, Director Axel Rüger is ecstatic that the paintings have been found. He notes:
It is really a major step that the paintings have been found. We have been waiting for this moment for 14 years. And naturally, the only thing you want is to take them straight home with you. But we will have to exercise a little bit more patience, but I am convinced that we can count on the support of the Italian authorities.’
Hopefully, the paintings will return to the Van Gogh museum at the end of investigations.