The Hague – Two dozen 17th-century Dutch paintings stolen a decade ago have resurfaced in Ukraine, a Dutch museum revealed Monday, warning that the works were in danger of being sold on the black market after its own efforts to retrieve them failed, AFP reports.
Five months ago, two men claiming to be from the ultra-nationalist Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists militia entered the Dutch embassy in Kiev claiming to have stumbled upon the complete collection of paintings. There was no mention of the silverware.
They said they had found the art in a villa in war-torn eastern Ukraine, where Kiev’s forces are battling pro-Russian separatists. As proof, the men showed a picture of one of the paintings alongside a recent Ukrainian newspaper edition, the Westfries Museum said. “The men said they wanted to give back the paintings” but did not want Ukrainian authorities involved, according to the museum.
The Dutch government decided to give the city of Hoorn a chance to negotiate their return and employed an art historian who specialises in tracing stolen works to act as an intermediary. But after meeting with the militia members, the expert, Arthur Brand, said “it was clear their estimate of the art was totally unrealistic,” according to the museum.
“They wanted 50 million euros.” Brand told the men that based on the current market value of similar recently sold paintings, the collection was worth between 250,000 to 1.3 million euros ($270,000-$1.4 million) depending on the condition of the items.
At the time the paintings were stolen they were valued at 10 million euros but Brand, judging by the state of one of the paintings, said the collection was now worth at most 500,000 euros. The militia members then claimed a “finders’ fee” of five million euros “and not a cent less,” after which negotiations reached a dead end.
Fears that the works would next turn up on the stolen art circuit prompted the museum to go public with the saga. “The reason for our revelation is that there are very strong indications the paintings are now being offered for sale to other parties,” Westfries Museum director Ad Geerdink told a press conference Monday.
“Some may even already have been sold.” The museum said it hoped potential buyers would be warned as well as aware of the artworks’ real value. The museum however said the paintings are “priceless to us, as they tell the story about a fascinating time in West Friesland during the Golden Age.”