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Stealing the ‘Poppy Flower’ | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The theft of the ‘Poppy Flower’ painting last Saturday from one of Cairo’s museums has caused a worldwide stir. The painting rightly deserves this attention as today it is worth more than 50 million dollars. However, its artistic value – which is far more important – is simply priceless. The theft of the ‘Poppy Flower’ brings to mind the biography of its creator, Dutch Artist Vincent Van Gogh, a man whose poverty forced him to substitute food for cups of coffee, just to afford his art materials.

It is surprising, reading Youssef Francis’s book “Voyages of Love and Insanity”, how the family of Van Gogh, after his death, managed to accumulate enormous wealth by selling his paintings and other works. Throughout his entire life, Van Gogh only sold one painting. Today, the works of this great artist, who lived and died in poverty, are arguably the most valuable in the world. This [posthumous fame] extends beyond his paintings to the rest of personal effects. Even a message in which he had asked to borrow 40 francs was sold after his death for 40,000 francs!

Fame was so elusive for Van Gogh throughout his entire life to the extent that he suffered a mental breakdown. Even the portrait which he painted as a gift for the doctor who had treated him ended up [covering a hole] in a chicken coop. When the doctor learned later on of Van Gogh’s death, and the posthumous fame he had risen to, he tried to save what remained of the portrait from chicken pecks and waste, as he rushed to sell it to the highest bidder.

The genius artist spent part of his life in mental hospitals following the deterioration of his mental state, and severing his ear in regret over fighting with a friend. Van Gogh then carried his torn ear in a handkerchief and offered it to his beloved as a token of sincere love. His tragedy reached its peak when he shot himself dead, thus bringing to an end a life brimming with art, madness and misery.

The most famous paintings in the world have been subject to theft. Among them was the Mona Lisa, the masterpiece of the great Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, which was eventually restored after years. Thieves of famous paintings such as the ‘Poppy Flower’ are usually egotistical individuals with an inflated sense of possession, and a desire to have what others own, as it stimulates their interest. Despite the great financial value of such stolen works, they are hard to sell or exhibit in public. Therefore, those who steal them, by and large, make little substantial profit. Rather, they deprive millions of art fans from viewing and contemplating such dazzling masterpieces.

If I could wish for one impossible thing, it would be for Van Gogh, a man downtrodden by the world, to know how stealing one of his paintings today raises the level of inspection at airports, preoccupies the Interpol, hits the headlines and becomes an issue of debate on satellite TV channels. Most believe Van Gogh would look at us in anger and protest, but I think he would say: “Why did the world have to wait for my death to acknowledge my talent?”