They say art is priceless, but the truth is that it’s often worth a lot of money. Art theft has been a lucrative business for over many years now: innumerable pieces have been stolen from all over the world, and have been sold and resold many times over in the black market.

One major heist was that of the Van Gogh’s paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

How It All Went Down

The worldwide art community went into shock during the December of 2002, when a pair of burglars used a ladder to scale the walls and break into Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.

Once on the rooftop, they busted out a window with a sledgehammer. The duo then slipped past the cameras, the infrared security system, and the wandering guards, and managed to steal two Van Gogh paintings from the main gallery, they were "Seascape at Scheveningen" (1882) and "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" (1884).

Seascape At Scheveningen was the only painting in the museum which is dated from Van Gogh's period in The Hague. Painted in the Netherlands, it is one of the only two seascapes Van Gogh worked on. It is a stunning example of his individual character, as it portrays his earlier style of painting.

Congregation Leaving The Reformed Church In Nuenen was painted for his mother, this was a Van Gogh work from the year 1884. This painting exhibits the Reformed Church fellowship in the Brabant village of Nuenen, where Van Gogh's father served as the minister.

Van Gogh reworked the painting in 1885—after his father's death—and added the churchgoers as well. There are also a few women in shawls, which depict mourning. The powerful biographical aspect makes this a work of prominent sentimental value.

The Worth Of The Paintings

According to Adriaan Dönszelmann, the managing director of the Van Gogh Museum, the estimated value of both works at the time of the crime was a whopping 4 million euros, or about 4.5 million dollars.

The Stolen Van Gogh Paintings Found

Octave Durham AKA The Monkey—an art thief who acquired the nickname for his skill to evade police—and his accessory Henk Bieslijn, were convicted of the crime in 2004 after their DNA was found at the crime scene.

They were given a four-year sentence, but maintained a plea of ‘not guilty.’

Discovered By Chance

The paintings were a chance find; investigators who were keeping an eye on the drug-trafficking Amato-Pagano clan were tipped off about the paintings by gang leaders who were arrested in January.

They were then found hidden away, wrapped in cloth, in a house associated with an international drug trafficker based in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples.

Before the discovery went viral, an art curator verified the authenticity of the paintings and concluded that they were real. Both works are supposed to be in good shape, given that no one knows the conditions they were kept in.

The paint has chipped away at the bottom left corner of the Scheveningen painting, and there is trivial damage to the sides of the Nuenen church painting.

Art-Napping And The Mafia

Museum director, Axel Rüger said, "After so many years I didn’t dare to think they would ever return”. Dutch art crimes investigator, Arthur Brand, said that only 5 to 10 percent of stolen art cases are ever resolved.

“These Van Gogh paintings were most likely used in what we call ‘art-napping’ — where the Mafia often steal works of art and utilize them as payment within their own families,” he said.

Burdens Of Proof

It is unknown as to when the works can return to the museum. The criminal case, in which the paintings will be presented as burdens of proof, is still to be kept because the probing investigation has not been completed.

Rüger says, "We will have to practice a little bit more patience, but I am persuaded that we can count on the assistance of the Italian authorities." But as for the museum, which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh works, the ultimate restoration of the stolen paintings will fill an essential gap in its collection.  

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    10-11-2016 14:07     Comments ( 0 )
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