Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Van Gogh's "Poppy Flowers" Stolen From Cairo Museum

Left Image: Painter Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with Felt Hat, Winter 1887-1888, oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

The Egyptian authorities are still searching for the US $50 to $55 million floral still-life painting by Van Gogh that has gone missing since Saturday, August 21, from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt. This is the second time that this painting has been stolen.

Egypt's culture minister Farouq Hosni said the $50 to $55 million painting by Dutch post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh identified as "Poppy Flowers" or "Vase with Flowers" was cut from its frame and smuggled out after the museum opened Saturday morning, August 21. He had said that the museum was visited by only 10 people that day and that two Italians have been arrested at Cairo airport with the painting; however, Hosni later backtracked and said he had been given incorrect information about the painting's recovery. It has since been reported that the arrested Italian couple have been released.

ANSA news agency had said the two Italians were with a group of Spanish and Russian tourists when they had visited the museum.

Associated Press, citing Egypt's top prosecutor, reported that none of the alarms were working and only seven out of 43 surveillance cameras were functional at the time the Van Gogh painting was stolen. Prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud told Egypt's state news agency Sunday that the thieves used a box cutter to cut the painting from the frame. He blamed the art heist on the lax security at the museum. He said the museum guards' daily rounds at closing time were also inadequate and did not meet the necessary security requirements to protect renowned works of art.

Mr. Mahmoud also said that 15 Egyptian officials, including the director of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Reem Bahir, and the head of the fine arts department at the Ministry of Culture, Mohsen Shaalan, have been barred from leaving the country until a full investigation into the art theft has been completed.

Officials have stepped up security at Egypt's borders to try to keep the artwork from leaving the country.

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosni said no one would be able to easily sell or conceal the painting because of its size, 63 by 57 centimeters.

This is the second time this painting has gone missing. It was first stolen in 1978 and was recovered two years later at an undisclosed location in Kuwait. The circumstances surrounding this first theft remain unclear, as officials have never released the full details.

Painted around 1887, the missing "Poppy Flowers" work measures 63 cm by 57 cm (25.2 in by 22.8 in) and is a still-life of a vase with yellow flowers and red poppies. It is believed that Van Gogh painted this work three years before his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

See following video report for more details and a photo of the missing painting.

Watch video: "Egypt searches for $50m painting" - Ayman Mohyeldin from Al Jazeera English News reporting from Cairo, 22 August 2010.

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