The actual—and very long—title of van Gogh’s painting is “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen.”
A prolific artist, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) created over 2000 artworks. Most of his almost 900 oil paintings, however, were painted in the last two years of his life.
Van Gogh’s fame and influence came after death. Severely depressed and impoverished, he committed suicide when he was only thirty-seven years old.
Six years earlier, in 1884, van Gogh painted the “Congregation” as a gift to cheer up his mother who had broken her leg.
The oil on canvas painting, which measures approximately 16.3” x 12.6”, shows the local Dutch Reformed church where his father ministered. Nuenen is a small village in the Netherlands.
Over a year later, after the death of his father, van Gogh added mourners to the painting.
Van Gogh’s sister inherited “Congregation” from their mother. She left it to her daughter who sold it to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation in 1958. Eventually, it was acquired by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam where it’s currently on display.
The painting, along with van Gogh’s “Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather,” was stolen on December 7, 2002 when thieves used a ladder to access the museum’s roof.
The Italian Guardia di Finanza, an Italian law enforcement agency, recovered the paintings near Naples in January 2016—thirteen years later!
The agency found the stolen paintings wrapped in cloth in an apartment basement while investigating an international drug smuggling group affiliated with a regional mafia family.
When the paintings were recovered, a museum spokesperson talked about their important historical value. The “Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather,” is van Gogh’s only seascape dating from “his years spent in the Hague” (1881-1883) and “serves as an important example of his early style of painting.” The painting of the Nuenen church has “great emotional value” as the congregation are depicted as mourning the death of van Gogh’s father (CNN).
The small canvas of Nuenen church, where the artist's father was a Dutch Reformed Church pastor, holds "great emotional value," according to the museum's website.
For unexplained reasons, the find wasn’t announced until several months later. “Congregation” returned to public view in March 2017.
Source: Eastaugh, Sophie. “Stolen Van Gogh paintings found after 14 years in raid on Italian mafia group.” (CNN.com article updated September 30, 2016; accessed June 5, 2022).
Johnnie imagines inspiring stories in multiple genres. A fan of classic movies, stacks of books, and road trips, she shares a life of quiet adventure with Griff, her happy-go-lucky collie, and Rugby, her raccoon-treeing papillon. Visit her at johnnie-alexander.com.