Two stolen Van Gogh paintings are to be unveiled at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples next week. They had been seized from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 and were secreted away by the mafia. On 30 September 2016 the two pictures were recovered by the Italian authorities in Castellammare di Stabia, a seaside resort 25 kilometres south of Naples. The pictures are believed to have been held by Raffaele Imperiale, a leader of the Neapolitan mafia.
On 7 February Van Gogh’s View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884-5) are to go on display in the Naples museum, until 26 February. The two pictures will then be returned to Amsterdam, to go back on show in March. Later this year they will be fully conserved.
Both paintings have survived their ordeal relatively well, particularly considering that the thieves removed their protective frames. The church scene has only minor damage around the edges of the canvas. The seascape has suffered more. It was painted on paper mounted on canvas, and one corner of the paper (around 5 x 2 cm) was torn away.
Antimo Cesaro, an undersecretary of the Italian ministry of culture, has written a moving introduction to the Capodimonte catalogue, imagining how the thieves might have regarded their haul. Cesaro thinks of a drug trafficker “keeping such beauty to himself”, before the paintings reached “the austere environment of a police station or the spartan spaces of a customs officer”. Now the Van Goghs will be given back their dignity, initially in Capodimonte and then back home at the Amsterdam museum.