Vincent Van Gogh is regarded as one of the premiere post-impressionist painters of the 19th century. His works are high-value, and have been the target of several prominent art heists. Of particular interest are his iconic paintings of sunflowers. One such painting was stolen from Amsterdam’s Vincent Van Gogh Museum on April 14, 1991. Sunflowers (and nineteen other works) were lifted from the museum in the early morning by gunman who concealed themselves in the gallery the previous evening. The two thieves took the security guards hostage and forced them to turn off the alarm system. They spent forty-five minutes selecting which paintings to remove before escaping with the artwork stashed in garment bags. The heist ultimately failed. The paintings were recovered from an abandoned parked car thirty five minutes after they were stolen. Three works were badly damaged, but were restored. The 1991 theft was the largest art theft to occur in the Netherlands since World War II.
11 years later, in December of 2002, there was another art heist at the Van Gogh Museum. Two thieves climbed up to the roof of the museum using a ladder, and broke into the building. The pair stole two paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, both by Van Gogh.
A wealth of evidence was left at the crime scene, including a ladder, cloth, rope, cap and hat. Forensic analysis allowed the thieves to be apprehended. Octave Durham, a known art thief, and accomplice Henk B, were arrested in December 2003. They each served four years of jail time for the theft.
The stolen paintings were never recovered and have an estimated value of $30 million. It’s possible that they are being smuggled through the black market as currency, or are now held in a private collection. Alternatively they could have been hidden by the thieves in an unknown location. The FBI still recognizes the 2002 theft on their list of the top ten art crimes, and is accepting any leads on the paintings whereabouts
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