AMSTERDAM – A pair of Vincent Van Gogh paintings that were stolen 14 years ago and found during an Italian mafia investigation in 2016 were set to go back on display after undergoing restoration work, the Van Gogh Museum said on Tuesday.
In the early hours of Dec. 7, 2002, two men climbed onto the museum’s roof with a ladder, smashed a window and took off with “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” (1882) and “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” (1884) in a heist that unfolded in less than four minutes.
The priceless paintings, which belonged to Van Gogh’s early work, reappeared in Sept. 2016 when Italian police busted into the temporary residence of a member of Naples’ infamous Camorra crime organization.
“We are delighted to be able to put these significant works in our collection back on display in the museum, where they belong,” Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum, said in a statement.
“The conservators have done a brilliant job and the paintings will now go back on permanent display in their full glory, for everyone to see,” Rüger added.
The museum said that both paintings were important elements of its Van Gogh collection.
The sea view was an early Van Gogh painting, one of his first canvasses, but what is remarkable is how the style and the brushwork in it already point towards Van Gogh’s trademark energetic style.
Unfortunately, this canvass was damaged during its theft, leaving a good chunk of its left-hand bottom corner devoid of paint.
Conservators padded out the area with a 3D printed mold using scans to recreate the texture of the painting, the museum said.
The oil painting of the church in Nunenen, of which his father was a minister, was important from a sentimental point of view for Van Gogh as he made it for his bedridden mother when she was unwell and unable to go to church.
The original piece did not include the churchgoers in the foreground, which he later added alongside some autumn leaves on the previously bare winter trees.
The changes were made after his father passed away in 1885.
Luckily the painting of the congregation was barely damaged during the heist, except for a layer of gloss that was applied to it and later removed by conservators.
Both artworks are set to go back on display at the Van Gogh Museum in The Netherlands on Wednesday, April 17.
On May 12, the paintings’ conservators Saskia van Oudheusden and Kathrin Pilz will be giving a lecture at the museum about how they brought the paintings back to their former glory.