Sunday, August 22, 2010

Egyptian Cultural Minister Says Van Gogh Picture Still Missing

21 August 2010
Last updated at 20:59 ET

Egyptian minister says Van Gogh picture still missing

A Van Gogh painting worth $50 million stolen from a Cairo museum is still missing, Egypt's culture minister says.

Earlier Farouk Hosni had said two Italians had been arrested at Cairo airport, and the small canvas found.

Van Gogh is believed to have painted Poppy Flowers in 1887. But later he said he had been given "inaccurate" information, and the painting was still missing.

The painting - known as both Poppy Flowers and Vase And Flowers - was "cut from its frame" at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Saturday, Mr Hosni said.

Two Italians had been arrested at Cairo airport later in the day, after earlier visiting the museum.

The state news agency Mena reported that visitors to the exhibition had been investigated, and the Italian couple had aroused suspicion after they were seen visiting a toilet and then rapidly leaving the premises.

Italy's Ansa news agency said the two Italians were young and had been part of a tour group visiting the gallery.

It is not clear whether the pair are still under arrest.

Mr Hosni said that only 10 people had visited the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Saturday.

"Measures are still under way to uncover the circumstances of the incident and retrieve the painting," he said in a statement.

He blamed his earlier mistaken statement on erroneous information provided by an official.

Second theft

The same painting was previously taken from the same museum in 1978, but recovered a decade later in Kuwait.

Police questioned museum staff and security was tightened at air and sea ports across Egypt in the wake of the theft.

The work, measuring 30cm by 30cm(1ft by 1ft), and depicting yellow and red flowers, is believed to have been painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1887, three years before his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Mahmoud Khalil museum was built by Egyptian politician of the same name in the 1930s, and also holds works by Monet, Renoir and Degas.

Nine paintings of 19th Century Egyptian ruler Mohammed Ibrahim Pasha were stolen from the Muhammad Ali Palace last year, but found 10 days later dumped outside.

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