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Van Gogh paintings go on display 14 years after being stolen by the Mafia

Two priceless paintings by Vincent Van Gogh were unveiled, barely damaged, at an Amsterdam museum on Tuesday, 14 years after they were stolen in an audacious Mafia heist.

The works, 1882’s View of the Sea at Scheveningen and the 1884 Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, are from a period that was crucial to the post-impressionist master’s development as a painter.

“Those two paintings are from Van Gogh’s early period, so they are not necessarily the most sort of iconic works, but they are of very particular significance,” Van Gogh museum director Axel Rueger said in Amsterdam after the paintings were unveiled.

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Each work was valued by investigators on their recovery by Italian police six months ago at 50 million euros (C$72.1 million).

The paintings were unearthed by Italian investigators deep in the heart of Mafia country last September, behind a false wall in a villa that prosecutors said belonged to Raffaele Imperiale, accused of running an international cocaine trafficking ring.

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The sea view, showing a single wave-tossed ship just offshore under a brooding Dutch sky, is important to the museum as its only work from the painter’s period in The Hague, where he studied.

Van Gogh’s other canvas depicts the church in the southern province of Brabant where the artist’s father was minister. After his father died, Van Gogh added black-clad mourning figures to the canvas in tribute.

The sea view suffered minor damage when it was ripped from its frame, losing a piece of backing paper from the bottom-left corner. It was a “miracle” the paintings suffered no further harm over the following 14 years, Rueger said.