After disappearing for 14 years, two paintings by Vincent van Gogh that were stolen one morning from his namesake museum in Amsterdam have finally re-surfaced in a small Italian town. Anti-mafia prosecutors in Naples said investigators recovered the early works “Seascape at Scheveningen” (1882) and “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” (1884-85) while keeping tabs on a clan of the notorious Camorra Mafia, according to the New York Times. An arrested gang member had informed police of the paintings’s location: in the former house of Camorra’s leader in Castellammare di Stabia, which lies about 20 miles south of Naples.
“In this case, they were most likely used in what we call ‘art-napping’ — the Mafia often steals work of art and uses them as a kind of payment within their own families,” art crime investigator Arthur Brand told the Times. “Or if a boss is caught, he can sometimes make a deal for a lesser sentence in exchange for offering to help find stolen works of art.”
A curator has confirmed the works are authentic, the van Gogh museum said in a statement, representing van Gogh’s early creations while he was in Holland. They will eventually return home to go on view, although at an uncertain time, as investigations are ongoing to determine the works’s exact journey from Amsterdam to Italy. They suffered some damage along the way, including small areas of paint loss, but have surfaced “in fairly good condition,” the museum said. Both have also lost their frames; the one holding van Gogh’s painting of a church was particularly valuable, as it carried a record of the artist’s painting process: dabs of paint that suggest van Gogh used it to clean his brushes.
Painted as a gift for his mother, the small canvas depicts the church in Nuenen where van Gogh’s father had served as minister from 1882 until his death in 1885. When his father passed away, van Gogh revisited the painting to add churchgoers in the foreground, including women wearing mourning shawls. “Seascape at Scheveningen” is the only other painting in the museum’s collection from van Gogh’s time in the Hague. One of only two seascapes the artist created while in the Netherlands, it captures the fishing village he visited often in a stormy scene flourished with gray clouds, rippling waves, and the red flag of a sailboat caught in what is clearly a strong gust of wind.
“After all those years you no longer dare to count on a possible return,” the museum’s director Axel Rüger said of the artworks at a press conference. “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.”