Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 October - 3 November 2010
Issue No. 1021
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Painting a picture of peace

The culture minister and head of the Fine Arts Section have reconciled following two months of ping-pong accusations over who was responsible for the theft of a work by Van Gogh, Nevine El-Aref reports

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni and head of the Fine Arts Section Mohsen Shaalan met on Monday, their first meeting since August when a $55 million painting by Vincent Van Gogh was stolen. The meeting, at the ministry's headquarters in Zamalek, lasted for 45 minutes behind closed doors.

It came after mediation efforts launched by TV talk show host Khairi Ramadan.

Shaalan and 10 other officials from the Ministry of Culture were found guilty of gross negligence and professional delinquency after the painting, known as Poppy Flowers or Vase with Flowers, was reported stolen. Shaalan received a three-year suspended sentence following the theft from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum. He was released on LE10,000 bail.

The painting had been cut from its frame, leaving only the wooden stretchers on display.

It has not been recovered, and the thief, or thieves, remain at large.

Early investigations revealed that 36 of the museum's 43 surveillance cameras were not functioning and none of the alarms monitoring paintings was working. Security personnel were absent from the gallery complex during the time of the robbery.

Hosni said he believed Shaalan was negligent after he had delegated full responsibility for the museum to him. That created a war of words between Hosni and Shaalan who denied accusations of negligence and pointed an accusing finger at Hosni whom he said was using him as a "scapegoat".

But on Monday, Hosni told reporters after the meeting that he was very happy that Shaalan was back home. "The ministry never ever abandons its employees because it is a ministry of creativity and innovation," Hosni said, adding that according to the law Shaalan will not be able to return to his post because the case is still in court but he can be appointed a high-ranking A category consultant.

Hosni expressed his gratitude to Ramadan who he said helped ease Shaalan's embarrassment.

Shaalan said he and Hosni did not need mediation efforts because "I am a son of the Ministry of Culture and Hosni is the leader. "I look at what happened with the artist's imagination," Shaalan said. "I can see that it was a war where we clashed with one another and we must be reunited."

The Mahmoud Khalil Museum first opened on 23 July 1962. It houses a collection of mostly French art from the 19th and early 20th centuries amassed by Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Pasha and his wife Emiline Lock. In 1971 the building was requisitioned by the government of then president Anwar El-Sadat and was subsequently used as office space, reopening as a museum in 1995.

The permanent collection includes works by Paul Gauguin, Gustave Courbet, François Millet, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Adolphe Monticelli, Auguste Renoir and Auguste Rodin.

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