StolenTurners get first public airing in 8 years

Two stolen Turner masterpieces worth at least £20m apiece, which were recovered by the Tate gallery after an exhaustive search, went back on public display yesterday.

The paintings were returned to pride of place at Tate Britain eight years after they were taken from an exhibition in Frankfurt.

Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, said it was wonderful to see the paintings back in place. "In the last eight years we have been unable to show Turner's collection in full. There have been these two gaps on the wall, but now it is complete again."

The two paintings, entitled Shade and Darkness: The Evening of the Deluge and Light and Colour (Goethe's theory): The Morning After the Deluge, are among the most important of Turner's late works.

Shade and Darkness was tracked down two years ago by the gallery, which used £3.5m from a £24m insurance payout to fund the hunt. But the other work was not retrieved until shortly before Christmas. Details of the rescue operation have not been revealed while efforts continue to retrieve another work, by the German artist Caspar David Friedrich, stolen from the same exhibition in Germany. It does not belong to the Tate.

The pair, first exhibited in 1843, were taken from the Schirn Kunsthalle while they were on loan to an exhibition called Goethe and the Visual Arts.

Four people, one of them a driver, all said to be linked to the Serbian underworld, were arrested for stealing the paintings in 1995 and convicted in Germany in 1999. The recovery operation involved the Metropolitan Police and various agencies across Europe.

Sandy Nairne, formerly director of programmes at Tate Britain and now director of the National Portrait Gallery, co-ordinated the search on behalf of the Tate.

Watching the paintings being rehung yesterday, he said: "It is quite, quite wonderful to see them back here at Tate Britain. It has been such a long search over eight and a half years in which we had so many fears that these works might be damaged, or worse, they might have been destroyed and might never have come back into the public domain. So it is quite extraordinary to see them back here today."

Mr Nairne said the gallery must be proud to see the public enjoying the works again and praised all those involved in bringing them back to the country.

Sir Nicholas added his thanks. "Over the years people have been asking about the paintings and now we are able to tell them the whole story. This is the premier place to see J M W Turner's work and those who have helped bring them back have done fantastic work."

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