Stolen Van Gogh masterpieces found in Italian mafia mansion
Two Van Gogh paintings, stolen from the Van Gogh museum in 2002, have reappeared in the Naples home of an Italian mob boss.
Unearthed during a police investigation into the city’s illegal cocaine trade, Italian officials found the paintings in the southern Naples district of Castellammare di Stabia, where they also seized a small aircraft, boats, dozens of properties and 88 bank accounts.
The pictures were discovered unframed, wrapped in cotton fabric, inside a safe. Art experts stated that the pictures, missing for 14 years, seemed undamaged and in "relatively good condition".
Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh museum, declared the recovery of the artworks "a dream". He appeared with Italian police when they presented the paintings to the media.
"It is a great day for us today to see the works and to know that they are safe and that they are in safe hands," said Rüger. "We are immensely grateful to Italy."
"We’ve waited 14 years for this moment and of course we’d like to take them straight home. We’ll need to exercise a bit of patience, but I am convinced we can count on the support of the Italian authorities."
Italian minister for culture, Dario Franceschini, has also hailed the recovery as "extraordinary" and that it "confirmed the strength of the Italian system in the fight against the illicit trafficking of works of art".
A "top 10" art crime
The FBI declared the theft of the two paintings in 2002 as one of the "top 10" art crimes.
Art thief Octave Durham and his accomplice Henk Bieslijn avoided security and cameras by entering the museum from the roof, although their entrance did set off alarms.
Both thieves were subsequently caught and convicted of the crime in 2004, receiving four-year sentences. However by that time all leads for the stolen artworks had gone cold.
Worth an estimated combined value of 100 million euros, the two pictures were painted early in Van Gogh’s career while he was still living in the Netherlands.
"View of the Sea at Scheveningen", created in 1882, is one of just two seascapes painted by the artist, and the only picture in the museum’s collection from his time living in The Hague.
"Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" was painted in 1884 for the artist’s mother, and shows a church in Brabant where his father Theodorus used to preach. Van Gogh modified the painting after his father died in 1885 to include women in black mourning shawls.
The paintings will probably not be returned to the Netherlands immediately, according to Rüger, as they will be required as evidence during the trial.