Van Gogh paintings, stolen in 2002, recovered in Italy

NAPLES, Fla., Two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen from an Amsterdam museum in 2002, were recovered by Italian authorities, the museum announced Friday.

“View of the Sea at Schveningen” is one of two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh stolen in 2002 from an Amsterdam museum, and found by Italian authorities during an operation targeting organized crime. Photo courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

“View of the Sea at Scheveningen,” painted in 1882, and “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” painted in 1884, were taken from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in a robbery. They were recently found in Naples, in the home of a suspected drug trafficker, during a police sting operation targeting organized crime.

“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!” Van Gogh Museum director Axel Ruger said Friday in Naples.

The paintings were found with frames removed and a small amount of damage to the seascape, but are otherwise in good condition. They will be returned to the Amsterdam museum.

The theft in 2002 was regarded as among the most infamous heists in recent history. The thieves entered the museum from the building’s roof, then used a ladder to reach a window to enter the building. Octave Durham and Henk Bieslijn were convicted of the crime in 2004 and sentenced to four-year prison terms, but the artwork was not recovered until this year. The FBI regarded the theft as among its “Top 10” art crimes. Investigators told Italy’s Ansa news agency the two paintings have a value of $100 million, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Friday.

By Ed Adamczyk