2 stolen Van Gogh paintings return to public view after 17 years

Art needed restoration to fix damage

By Michelle Lou, CNN and Brandon Griggs, CNN
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The 1882 painting by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh "View of the Sea at Scheveningen", one of two Van Gogh paintings that were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in the early hours of Dec. 7, 2002, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Together with the…

(CNN) - Two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen from a museum 17 years ago, have finally returned to the public eye.

In 2002, thieves swiped the Dutch painter's pieces, named "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" and "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen," from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They used a ladder to access the museum roof and broke in.

After a 14-year search and an investigation into a group linked to the Italian mafia, authorities recovered the paintings in Italy in 2016.

Museum staff spent two years examining the damage to the paintings and restoring them. On Wednesday, they hung them up again in the museum's galleries.

"We are delighted to be able to put these significant works in our collection back on display in the museum, where they belong," museum director Axel Ruger said in a statement.

"The conservators have done a brilliant job and the paintings will now go back on permanent display in their full glory, for everyone to see."

Both paintings required conservation treatment

The paintings, which date from the 1880s, underwent conservation treatment before they returned to public display.

"View of the Sea at Scheveningen," one of Van Gogh's earliest works in oil paint, was damaged during its time away from the museum. It is is one of only two seascapes that Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands, according to the museum.

A piece of paint was missing from the bottom left-hand corner, but museum conservators filled it using a 3D-printed mould replicating the original brushstrokes. The piece had likely torn off when the painting was removed from its frame, the museum said.

During the conservation treatment process, they found the remains of a signature "Vincent." However, the museum believes that Van Gogh himself did not write it.

Fortunately, "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen," sustained hardly any damage, the museum said. The painting depicts the church in Nuenen, a city in the Netherlands, where Van Gogh's father was the minister.

The museum found that both paintings were covered with a varnish that wasn't there before and had yellowed over time. Conservators removed the layers of varnish and retouched the paintings.

In the process of removing varnish from "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen," they discovered another varnish layer that Van Gogh likely applied himself. It is protein based and marks the first time that such a varnish layer has been found in the painter's early work.

The museum also selected new frames for both paintings because the thieves removed the previous ones.

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