Dutch city celebrates return of stolen art
October 07 2016 11:51 PM
Musicians in period costumes perform as two employees carry a big box containing paintings during a
Musicians in period costumes perform as two employees carry a big box containing paintings during a ceremony in which the five paintings, stolen from the Westfries museum in Friesland, northwest of the Netherlands, were returned from Ukraine.

AFP/Hoorn, The Netherlands

The Dutch city of Hoorn erupted with joy yesterday as it welcomed back 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 the crowd cheered and clapped.
The five paintings were among 24 Dutch Golden Age masterpieces and 70 pieces of silverware stolen from the museum in the northwest city on January 9, 2005.
At the time of their disappearance, the 24 paintings were valued at a total of €10mn ($11mn).
One of the recovered works, Isaak Ouwater’s 1784 piece entitled Nieuwstraat in Hoorn, valued around €30,000 ($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: A Peasant Wedding by Hendrick Boogaert, Kitchen Scene by Floris van Schooten, Return of Jephta and Lady World by Jacob Waben.
The museum has now launched a crowdfunding campaign to restore the five works, as spokeswoman Christa van Hees said they “have suffered a lot” in the past decade and “are in a terrible condition”.
Two of the paintings had been put back in frames, with lines clearly visible where they have been folded, an AFP reporter said.
The other canvases were still rolled up, but showed signs of cracks.
After the works were snatched there was an intensive police investigation, but it was not until mid-2015 that the museum received word that the paintings may be in Ukraine.
Two men claiming to represent a pro-Kiev group said they had found the art in a villa in war-torn eastern Ukraine, where Kiev’s forces were battling pro-Russian separatists.
Art historian Arthur Brand, who played a major role in the paintings’ return, said that the men initially priced the works at €50mn and then wanted €5mn for them.
“We were only prepared to give them €50,000, which is a finders’ fee,” Brand told AFP.
So the negotiations collapsed.
Details remain unclear about the next moves, 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 that they were “in the possession of criminal groups”.
“What’s more important is that we at least have some of them back,” Hoorn resident and museum ticket sales manager Karin van Hoorn told AFP. “When I saw them for the first time, a short while ago I was so overwhelmed I almost started crying.”

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