Van Gogh and the Mob

How His Work Got Mixed up With the Wiseguys

Since the semester ended I’ve been rewatching the entirety of The Sopranos. Despite the fact that he is a psychopathic narcissist, somehow you just can’t not root for Tony, but, that’s not the point of this post. This week I thought it would be interesting to research and write about the ways that art intersects with the seedy underbelly of the organized crime world.

It’s no secret that art and crime have a unique relationship with one another, and most everyone knows the Mona Lisa was, at some point or another, stolen from the Louvre (In 1911). In this post, I wanted to discuss the theft of two Van Gogh pieces,  Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and View of the Sea at Scheveninge.

Van Gogh, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884-85

On December eleventh of 2002, Octave Durham and an accomplice would smash in a window on the roof of the Vincent Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam with a sledgehammer, managing to lift the two previously mentioned paintings off the wall and into their security. After three minutes and forty seconds, they would be off with the paintings still in their plexiglass cases. Along the way, Durham would chip some of the paint off of View of the Sea at Scheveningen, later flushing the paint chippings down a toilet as they still remained in the plexiglass case. It should be noted that View of the Sea is absolutely gorgeous.

Van Gogh, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882

Durham, having no historical knowledge of either piece, would end up selling them for roughly $380,00 USD to a man named Henk Bieslijn, an Amsterdam “coffee shop” owner who would sell Marijuana out of his location. Initially, Durham planned to sell it to Cor van Hout, a man convicted of kidnapping Alfred H. Heineken in 1983. Yes, that is Mr. Heineken… like the beer. However, before Durham could sell Van Hout the paintings, he would find out he was murdered the same day he was intended to pick them up!

Both pieces were recovered when the Guardia di Finanza (the Italian law enforcement agency of under the authority of the Minister of Finance) found them without their original frames in a home near Pompeii, over a decade after they were originally stolen.

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