Van Gogh paintings found with Italian mafia returning to the Netherlands

Two stolen paintings by Vincent van Gogh, which were found in the possession of the Italian mafia last year, are returning to the Netherlands. The paintings were initially held back as evidence in the case against the Italian mafia, but an Italian court ruled that they can be released and sent home, the Van Gogh Museum announced on Thursday.

The paintings involved are Seafront at Scheveningen from 1882 and Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen from 1884/85. They were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 and were found late in September. Despite being missing for some 14 years, they are in a reasonably good condition, although both are missing their frames and showing  few signs of damage, the museum said.

Exactly when the paintings will be returned is unclear, but the museum expects it to be soon.

"We have just heard that the judge has ordered the release of two recovered Van Goghs. It's great news: we can now focus fully on preparing for the paintings to come home." museum director Axel Ruger said. "On behalf of my colleagues, I'd like to thank everyone who has worked so intensively and with such commitment to make this possible. We're especially grateful to the Italian authorities for achieving something we almost thought would never happen. We can't wait to place the two lost works back in our museum's collection."

Minister Jet Bussemaker of Education, Culture and Science is also delighted. "It is excellent news that the paintings will shortly be returning to the Netherlands. Everyone, both young and old, should soon be able to enjoy these works again at the Van Gogh Museum. My compliments to all the parties who have worked so hard to make this happen." she said.