Amsterdam's Van Gogh museum welcomes back stolen paintings some 15 years after theft

Two paintings by Vincent van Gogh that were stolen from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in 2002, are finally back home. On Tuesday the museum invited members of the press to see the works for the first time in just over 14 years. From Wednesday the paintings will be on display to the public, AD reports.

Museum director Axel Ruger is delighted that the paintings - Seafront at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen - are back. He called it a miracle. "They're back. I never thought I'd be able to say that", he said. According to him, the day they were stolen, December 7th 2002, was "the darkest day in the history" of the museum. "Now the collection is complete again and we can close this painful chapter. 

The paintings were missing for years, before being found in the home of an Italian mafia boss in September last year. They were then considered evidence in the Italian authorities' case against the mafia, until a court ruled in January that they could be released and returned to the Netherlands

Despite some minor damage, the paintings are still in a good condition, according to AD. Over the past 14 years, they were likely handled very little. "They had a quiet time behind the double wall at the home of the parents of mob boss Raffaele Imperiale, where they were found", Ruger said. 

Minister Jet Bussemaker of Education, Culture and Science also attended the homecoming. According to her, the theft was only about "cold hard cash. For a ticket to Ibiza or a trip to Disneyland." And despite the thieves being caught and convicted, according to her justice was not done, because the paintings were still gone. 

The paintings will be on display in the Van Gogh Museum until May 14th, when they will go for restoration. 

Over the weekend one of the thieves, Octave Durham, told the Telegraaf that they actually wanted to steal the more famous paintings Sunflowers and The Potato Eaters, but that the first was too well protected and the second too large.