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Two Van Goghs stolen from museum

Van Gogh's
Van Gogh's "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" (1884)

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- A pair of paintings by the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh have been stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Dutch police said the thieves entered the building through the roof. The theft was discovered early on Saturday morning before the museum was set to open.

The break-in set off the museum's alarm system, but the thieves -- who used a ladder to climb onto the roof -- had disappeared by the time police arrived, a police spokesman told Reuters.

"There has been a burglary. The thief or thieves entered the building by the roof. Two paintings are missing. We are still searching the premises and we are still investigating the scene of the crime," a police spokesman told Reuters.

Police found a broken window one story above street level and a 15-foot (4.5 meter) ladder leaning against the rear of the building, The Associated Press reported.

Forensics officers were seen carrying away bits of glass from the window and a blanket or large cloth the thieves may have used.

Police were studying video tapes recorded by security cameras in the hall, while curators rearranged the paintings to cover the blank spaces on the walls before opening the museum to the public, the AP said.

A museum spokeswoman said she could not put a value on the paintings, which were taken from the main exhibition hall. Major paintings by the artist usually sell for millions of dollars.

"Just before 8 (a.m.) they disappeared," she told Reuters.

The two stolen paintings are "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" and "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen," the museum said.

The museum, which opened in 1973, houses the world's largest collection of van Gogh's works, with more than 200 paintings and 600 drawings by the artist. The museum is located in the heart of Amsterdam and has drawn about 1.5 million visitors this year.

It was the second major museum theft in the Netherlands this week. On Monday, thieves stole diamond jewellery worth millions of euros (dollars) from the Museon in The Hague, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Amsterdam.

The museum was exhibiting tiaras and necklaces borrowed from European kings and queens. There was no indication of whether the thefts were related.

"View of the Sea at Scheveningen," an oil on canvas measuring 34.5 x 51 cm, was painted in 1882.

"Van Gogh painted this small view of the sea using thick gobs of colour and a rough brushstroke," according to the museum's Web site.

"View of the Sea at Scheveningen" (1882)

"The raging, foaming sea, the dark, thundery sky, and the boat's flag whipping in the wind all give a good impression of stormy weather.

"Van Gogh painted this picture on the spot, at Scheveningen, a beach resort near The Hague. He had to fight against the elements: the gusting wind and flying sand, which stuck to the wet paint.

"Most of this was later scraped off, but a few grains can still be found in some of the paint layers."

"Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen," a small oil on canvas, was painted two years later, in 1884.

Van Gogh painted it for his mother, who had broken her thighbone in January of that year, according to the museum.

"But it was also partly intended for his father, for the church in the picture is the one where his father had become pastor in 1882," according to the museum's Web site.

"X-rays show that initially there were no human figures in the painting except for a peasant with a spade. Later -- probably not before the autumn of 1885 -- (van Gogh) added the members of the congregation to the composition.

"He also added autumn leaves to the original bare, wintry trees, thereby making the canvas somewhat more colourful.

"It is not entirely clear why Van Gogh overpainted a part of the scene. The woman in the centre of the foreground, who is dressed in mourning, may provide a clue.

"The artist's father died in the spring of 1885, and Van Gogh may have intended these changes to connect the painting more closely with his dead father and thereby to update it, as it were, for his mother."

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