Dutch city cel­e­brates as stolen mas­ter­pieces re­turn home

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Hoorn, Nether­lands

The Dutch city of Hoorn erupted with joy on Fri­day as itwel­comed­back five mas­ter­pieces re­cov­ered from a crim­i­nal gang in Ukraine after be­ing snatched from the town’s mu­seum in 2005.

“After 4,320 days ... yes we counted the days ... they are back!” an emo­tional mu­seum direc­tor Ad Geerdink told hun­dreds of ci­ti­zens who gath­ered at the West­fries Mu­seum as the 17th- and 18th-cen­tury paint­ings were un­loaded from a truck.

“Our her­itage has re­turned to the mu­seum where they be­long, back in the city where they be­long,” Geerdink said as the­crowd­cheeredand­clapped.

The five paint­ings were among24 Dutch “golden age” mas­ter­pieces and 70 pieces of sil­ver­ware stolen from the mu­seum in the north­west city on Jan 9, 2005.

At the time of their dis­ap­pear­ance, the 24 paint­ings were val­ued at a to­tal of 10 mil­lion euros ($11 mil­lion).

One of the re­cov­ered works, Isaak Ouwa­ter’s 1784 piece en­ti­tled Nieuw­straat in Hoorn, val­ued at around 30,000 euros ($33,400), was handed back by an un­sus­pect­ing Ukrainian art buyer in May. But de­tails over how the paint­ing came into his pos­ses­sion re­main vague.

The four other re­trieved paint­ings, which were also found in Ukraine, are: APeas­ant Wed­ding by Hen­drick Boogaert, Kitchen Scene by Floris van Schooten, Re­turn of Jephta and Lady World by Ja­cobWaben.

The mu­seum has now launched a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign to re­store the five works, as spokes­woman Christa van Hees says they “have suf­fered a lot” in the past decade and “are in a ter­ri­ble con­di­tion”.

After the works were snatched there was an in­ten­sive po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but it was not un­til mid-2015 that the mu­se­um­re­ceived­wordthatthe paint­ings­maybe in­Ukraine.

Two men claim­ing to rep­re­sent a pro-Kiev group say they had found the art in a villa in east­ern Ukraine.

Art his­to­rian Arthur Brand, who played a ma­jor role in the paint­ings’ re­turn, says the men ini­tially priced the works at 50 mil­lion euros and then wanted 5 mil­lion euros for them.

“We were only pre­pared to give then 50,000 euros, which is a find­ers’ fee,” Brand says. So the ne­go­ti­a­tions col­lapsed.

De­tails re­main un­clear about the next move, but after in­tense be­hind-the-scenes work Ukraine an­nounced in April it had re­cov­ered four of the paint­ings.

How­ever, it did not give de­tails of ex­actly how the works were re­trieved, say­ing only they were “in the pos­ses­sion of crim­i­nal groups”.

AFP

West­fries Mu­seum direc­tor Ad Geerd­ing (left) and art his­to­rian Arthur Brand (right) cel­e­brate after five paint­ings, stolen from the mu­seum, are re­turned from Ukraine on Oct 7.

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