Van Gogh paintings snatched then found

Following the recovery of a Vincent van Gogh painting snatched from a Dutch museum during the Covid-19 lockdown, AFP looks back at some other heists involving works by the Dutch master:

Poppy flowers taken twice

On 21 August 2010, Van Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers”, worth $55 million at the time, was cut out of its frame in broad daylight at the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum outside Cairo.

An investigation revealed that the museum’s alarm system did not work and that 30 out of 47 surveillance cameras were out of order.

It was the second time the small painting from 1887, which is still missing, had been stolen — the first was in 1997, when it was taken from the same museum and was found only 10 years later, in Kuwait.

Left in car park

Van Gogh’s “Blossoming Chestnut Branches” (1890), among four Impressionist masterpieces valued at more than 112 million euros, was stolen from a Zurich museum on 10 February 2008, in one of Europe’s biggest-ever art heists.

Three masked men entered the Emil Buehrle Collection at the Kunsthaus Zurich, held up staff at gunpoint, loaded the paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh into a car, and sped off.

The Van Gogh and the Monet were later found in an abandoned vehicle in the car park of a nearby psychiatric hospital.

Found in Manchester loo

On 27 April 2003, a Van Gogh watercolor, “The Ramparts of Paris” (1887), was stolen from the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, northern England, along with two other paintings, one by Picasso, the other by Gauguin.

The police quickly received a tip-off leading to a public toilet just meters away, where they found the paintings rolled up inside a cardboard tube. The Van Gogh suffered a tear in the corner and the two others showed water damage.

The thief left a note claiming that he or she merely wanted to highlight the gallery’s inadequate security.

Recovered after 14 years

On 7 December 2002, two Van Gogh works valued at several million euros were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in the middle of the night.

The two Dutch thieves climbed onto the roof, smashed a window with a sledgehammer, and snatched the nearest Van Goghs they could reach.

The paintings — “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” (1882) and the 1884/5 “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” — were recovered by Italian investigators 14 years later when they raided a home belonging to a mafia drug baron near Naples.

Half-hour heist

At dawn on 14 April 1991, gunmen stole 20 major paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in one of the most spectacular art thefts since World War II.

But the heist of the century was over within 35 minutes, when the paintings, stuffed in garment bags, were recovered from a getaway vehicle abandoned near a train station just 10 minutes from the museum.

The paintings should have been transferred to another car, but the plan was foiled by a mechanical hitch.