Ukraine Recovers Four Old Masters Stolen from Dutch Museum

Other paintings may still be in the hands of a militant group.

One of the stolen paintings, by Jacob Waben, from the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands recovered in the Ukraine. Photo: courtesy the Westfries Museum.
One of the stolen paintings, by Jacob Waben, from the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands recovered in the Ukraine.
Photo: courtesy the Westfries Museum.

Four of 24 paintings stolen from the Netherlands’ Westfries Museum ten years ago have finally been recovered. The Golden Age-era works were found “in the possession of criminal groups,” according to a statement from Ukraine’s foreign minister, as reported by the BBC.

In December, representatives from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists had discovered the paintings during fighting with pro-Russian separatists, were were asking for €50 million ($55 million) for the return of the artworks. This amount was later reduced to €5 million (over $5 million).

A decade ago, 24 paintings were stolen from the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands. Now, four of the works have been recovered in the Ukraine. Photo: courtesy the Westfries Museum.

A decade ago, 24 paintings were stolen from the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands. Now, four of the works have been recovered in the Ukraine.
Photo: courtesy the Westfries Museum.

Although Ukrainian militia members may have felt they had stumbled upon a major windfall, the 16th and 17th century artists represented in the haul don’t command the same lofty prices as such Rembrandt or Vermeer. Instead, the collection features the likes of Jan Linsen, Jan van Goyen, and Jacob Waben, and is reportedly worth only €50,000 ($56,000). The small museum, in the city of Hoorn, also lost 70 pieces of antique silverware in the nighttime heist.

When the Westfries staff first learned its stolen works had turned up, “we were very happy because it was the first sign of life about our paintings,” museum director Ad Geerdink told the BBC. “But then, when we heard they were in the Ukraine, we immediately thought this is making things not a lot easier.”

Dutch art historian and art detective Arthur Brand, Hoorn mayor Yvonne van Mastrigt, and Ad Geerdink director of the Westfries Museum at a press conference on artworks stolen from the museum in 2005. <br>Photo: Olaf Kraak/AFP/Getty Images.

Dutch art historian and art detective Arthur Brand, Hoorn mayor Yvonne van Mastrigt, and Ad Geerdink director of the Westfries Museum at a press conference on artworks stolen from the museum in 2005.
Photo: Olaf Kraak/AFP/Getty Images.

The Eastern European country has been engulfed in conflict since April 2014, after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.

While there have been exhibitions of Ukrainian protest art, the country’s arts organizations have suffered during the conflict, with pro-Russian separatists seizing the Izolyatsia Center for Cultural Initiatives in Donetsk and transforming it into a military base and prison. Operating in exile, Izolyatsia has organized numerous protests against the ongoing occupation of its facilities, as well as the destruction of its artwork.

According to Vasyl Grytsak, the head of Ukraine’s state security service, said the first of the four recovered paintings turned up in early March. Another was found earlier his month, and two were returned on April 14. “A preliminary examination has determined they are authentic,” he told reporters.


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