Stolen Van Gogh paintings worth £77 million found 'in international drug trafficker's home'

The Van Gogh Museum says the works are in relatively good condition with 'some damage'

Katie Forster
Friday 30 September 2016 13:23
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Alex Rueger (C), director of Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, stands next to the two recovered paintings
Alex Rueger (C), director of Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, stands next to the two recovered paintings

Italian police have recovered two paintings worth £77 million by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh that were stolen in Amsterdam 14 years ago.

The two artworks – 1882's Seascape at 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 Camorra mafia group.

Van Gogh Museum director Alex Rueger thanked the police, saying: “After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return.”

Experts from the museum said the paintings, found without their frames, are in relatively good condition, though they did show “some damage”.

Financial police 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 nvestigative authorities said the paintings were worth £77m.

Seascape at Scheveningen by Van Gogh, one of the paintings recovered in an anti-mafia raid

In the 2002 heist, included in a list of “top ten art crimes” compiled by the FBI, thieves used a ladder to climb onto the museum's roof and break into the building, escaping by sliding down a rope.

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 four years and four years and six months in prison, 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 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.

It is unclear when the paintings will return to Amsterdam, as the paintings may be used as evidence in court.

Additional reporting by agencies

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