Monday, February 11, 2008

Where'd They Gogh?

That pun was about as criminal as the Zurich theft. More details are emerging: the three thieves spoke German with a Slavic accent, and they escaped in a white car with the trunk open and the paintings visible. Police hope somebody saw them and can report a tag number or other information. The choice of the four paintings was made based on their location near the door; they were lined up together on one wall. The weight of framed paintings made it difficult for the three suspects to carry more.

The value of van Goghs means, of course, this is not the first theft. In December 1988, three van Goghs were stolen from the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, including an early version of the "Potato Eaters"; all were recovered. In April 1991, twenty paintings were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, including (horrors!) "The Potato Eaters," "Wheatfield with Crows," and the VGM's version of "Sunflowers." All were recovered about an hour later in the getaway car (a Volkswagen Passat), abandoned at the train station. Three suffered minor damage, including "Wheatfield with Crows," since repaired. Then in December 2002, the VGM was hit again and two paintings from the Dutch period were stolen, "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" and "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen." These two have NOT been recovered, although two suspects were charged in the theft, based on DNA evidence left behind at the scene.

A couple of news articles today are calling the Zurich art heist the second largest in history (after the 1991 VGM theft), but wouldn't the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft be second? Those paintings still haven't been recovered, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. Perhaps they mean second largest in EUROPEAN history.

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