Published November 17, 2014
CAIRO -- Egypt's culture minister on Saturday retracted his claim that police had recovered a van Gogh painting stolen from a Cairo museum, saying it was based on inaccurate information and that the search for the canvas continues.
The minister, Farouk Hosni, said earlier Saturday that police had confiscated the painting from an Italian couple at Cairo airport hours after it was lifted from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the Egyptian capital.
But Hosni later backtracked, telling a national television news program that "the statement was based on information we received that was false and incorrect." He said authorities are still searching for the missing painting, which goes by two titles -- "Poppy Flowers" and "Vase with Flowers." Hosni said the piece is valued at around $50 million.
It was not clear what caused the confusion over the artwork's fate, and officials could not be immediately contacted to clarify.
This is the second time this painting by the Dutch-born postimpressionist has been stolen from the Khalil museum. Thieves first made off with the canvas in 1978, before authorities recovered it two years later at an undisclosed location in Kuwait.
Officials have never fully revealed the details of that theft. When it was recovered, Egypt's then-interior minister said three Egyptians involved in the heist had been arrested and informed police where the canvas was hidden. Authorities never reported whether the thieves were charged or tried.
The 12-inch-by-12-inch (30-centimer-by-30-centimeter) canvas, believed to have been painted in 1887, resembles a flower scene by the French artist Adolphe Monticelli, whose work deeply affected van Gogh. The Monticelli painting also is part of the Khalil collection.
Most of the works for which van Gogh is remembered were painted in 29 months of frenzied activity before his suicide in 1890 at age 37.
The Cairo canvas is significant because it represents a turning point in van Gogh's painting style, said Conor Jordan, the head of impressionist and modern art at Christie's auction house in New York.
"It shows him assimilating the influences of the French avant-garde after having arrived in 1886 (from Amsterdam), absorbing as much as possible the current trend of French painting," Jordan told the Associated Press. He added that it was a time when van Gogh was "immersed in this wonderful new world of color."
Jordan said that van Gogh's work has a particular "resonance" with the public today, and the story of his turbulent life and career carries a powerful message that helps makes his work so coveted around the world.
Other works in the Khalil museum's collection, all from the 19th-century French school, are by Paul Gauguin, Gustave Courbet, Francois Millet, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir and Auguste Rodin.