30 September 2016
Works found during major Italian investigation.
During a press conference today at 11:30 am the Chief Public Prosecutor of the district of Naples will announce that two missing paintings by Van Gogh have been recovered. It concerns the two paintings that were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002: Seascape at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884/85). The curator who inspected the authenticity and provenance of the works at the request of the Italian Public Prosecutions Department drew a firm conclusion: ‘they are the real paintings!’ Despite a 14-year journey, the two paintings appear to be in fairly good condition. Both lack their frames and show signs of some damage. It is not yet clear when the paintings will return to Amsterdam.
The stolen paintings were recovered during a massive, continuing investigation commissioned by the Italian Public Prosecutions Department, conducted by a specialized Guardia di Finanza team, the team investigating organized crime.
Axel Rüger, Director of the Van Gogh Museum, present at the press conference in Naples, states:
‘After all those years you no longer dare to count on a possible return. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Italian Public Prosecutions Department, the members of the Guardia di Finanza investigation team, the Italian police, the Dutch Public Prosecutions Department, the liaison officers of the Dutch Public Prosecutions Department in Rome and everyone else involved. The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for. It is not yet certain when the works will come back to Amsterdam. But I fully believe that we can, once more, count on the unconditional support of the Italian authorities’.
Contrary to our expectations, the stolen paintings appear to be in relatively good condition. It is unknown where the works were kept after the theft in 2002, but it can be assumed that the paintings were not preserved under suitable conditions. 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. Additional research by a conservator should determine the exact condition of the two paintings.
Unique paintings, of major art historical interest
The art historical value of the paintings for the collection is huge. Seascape at Scheveningen is the only painting in our museum collection dating from Van Gogh's period in The Hague (1881-1883). It is one of the only two seascapes that he painted during his years in the Netherlands and it is a striking example of Van Gogh's early style of painting, already showing his highly individual character. The hoped-for forthcoming return of the Seascape will fill an important gap in the museum presentation.
Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is a small canvas that Van Gogh painted for his mother in early 1884. It shows the church of the Reformed Church community in the Brabant village of Nuenen, Van Gogh's father being its Minister. In 1885, after his father's death, Van Gogh reworked the painting and added the churchgoers in the foreground, among them a few women in shawls worn in times of mourning. This may be a reference to his father's death. The strong biographical undertones make this a work of great emotional value. The museum collection does not include any other painting depicting the church. Moreover, it is the only painting in the Van Gogh Museum collection still in its original stretcher frame. This frame is covered in splashes of paint because Van Gogh probably cleaned his brushes on it.
Burden of proof in criminal case
It is not yet known when the works will return. The criminal case, in which the paintings will be presented as burdens of proof, is still to be held because the investigation is not yet fully completed. When the trial will take place is not yet known. ‘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', according to Director Axel Rüger.