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Two Van Gogh paintings stolen in 2002 found in mafia raid

Two Vincent Van Gogh paintings stolen 14 years ago from the Dutch museum dedicated to his work have been recovered by Italian police in a raid on the mafia in Naples.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said the Dutch artist's paintings had been removed from their frames but appeared largely undamaged.

The works, 1884's "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" and 1882's "View of the Sea at Scheveningen", are both from relatively early in Van Gogh's career.

They were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum in December 2002 using a ladder before escaping by sliding down a rope.

The police investigation began in 2002 after two paintings were snatched from Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum by thieves in a daring robbery. Credit: Reuters

Two men were later caught and convicted of the theft but the paintings were not recovered.

Italian financial police confirmed the "priceless" paintings were seized along with "assets worth tens of millions of euros" from a Camorra mafia group it said was involved in international cocaine trafficking.

Van Gogh Museum director Axel Rueger hailed the surprise recovery, saying "They're safe. I no longer dared to hope that I could ever say that, after so many years."

It was not immediately clear when the paintings would be returned to the museum, which is one of Amsterdam's top tourist attractions.

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Newly discovered Van Gogh was kept in attic for years

A painting recently identified as an original Van Gogh had been kept in a Norwegian attic for years, the Van Gogh Museum has revealed.

An employee poses for photographers in front of Vincent Van Gogh's Chair painting in London in 2010. Credit: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

At an unveiling of the work at the museum in Amsterdam, it was explained the painting was the the first full-size canvas by the Dutch master discovered since 1928.

Museum director Axel Rueger described the discovery as a "once in a lifetime experience". The painting belongs to an unidentified private collector and will be on display at the museum from September 24.

Location of newly discovered Van Gogh found

The location of the painting - Sunset at Montmajor - has been identified as a landscape not far from Arles in the south of France.

Researchers from the Van Gogh Museum believe the subject for the painting is a scene near the Montmajour hill, with the ruin of the abbey with the same name.

Two letters from the artist, written in the summer of 1888, have also been found to refer to the painting, which will be displayed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from September 24.

This landscape in the south of France is understood to be the subject for the newly discovered Van Gogh. Credit: Van Gogh Museum
Sunset at Montmajor is believed to have been painted in 1888. Credit: Van Gogh Museum

New work produced at the time of iconic Sunflowers

Van Gogh Museum director Axel Ruger explained the newly-discovered painting, Sunset at Montmajor, is understood to have been painted at the time Van Gogh produced the world-famous paintings Sunflowers and The Bedroom.

Axel Ruger and Vincent Willem van Gogh, the great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh's brother Theo van Gogh. Credit: REUTERS/Bobby Yip

He said: "A discovery of this magnitude has never before occurred in the history of the Van Gogh Museum. It is already a rarity that a new painting can be added to Van Gogh's oeuvre.

"But what makes this even more exceptional is that this is a transition work in his oeuvre, and moreover, a large painting from a period that is considered by many to be the culmination of his artistic achievement, his period in Arles in the south of France.

"During this time he also painted world-famous works, such as Sunflowers, The yellow house and The Bedroom."

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