Two Vincent van Gogh paintings that were stolen from an Amsterdam art museum 14 years ago have been recovered by anti-mafia police in Italy.
The Van Gogh Museum, which housed the Dutch post-Impressionist painter's "Seascape at Scheveningen" and "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" when these were stolen in 2002, announced that a curator who inspected the works confirmed the recovered artworks were the real paintings.
Naples police said on Friday, Sept. 30, that the artworks were recovered during a police operation that focused on a mafia gang involved in international cocaine trade. The paintings were found wrapped in cloth in the basement of an apartment owned by the rich and powerful drug dealer Raffaele Imperiale.
The discovery of the paintings described as being "priceless" in the village of Castellammare di Stabia near Naples was part of a crackdown investigating the Amato Pagano clan, an international drug smuggling group linked to the Camorra crime clan, a notorious mafia family. Along with the paintings, the police also seized tens of millions worth of properties.
The Van Gogh Museum said that the paintings appear to have some damage but they seem to be in relatively good condition.
"Contrary to our expectations, the stolen paintings appear to be in relatively good condition," the museum said in a statement. "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 recovery of the two canvases was a relief for the museum more than a decade after the much publicized heist. Thieves stole the artworks using a ladder and a rope.
The paintings hold great historical value. The watery seascape, which was painted in 1882, serves as an important example of the Dutch master's early style of painting. It is also one of the only two seascapes painted by van Gogh while he was in The Hague.
The painting of the church, on the other hand, is the only painting in the museum's collection that remains to be in its original stretcher frame, which has paint splashes that appear to be from when the influential painter was cleaning his brush. It was painted for the artist's mother in 1884, but van Gogh later added churchgoers in mourning garb after his father's death in 1885.
The paintings are being held to be used as evidence for the criminal trial. It was not immediately clear when these artworks would be returned to the Netherlands.