A Vincent van Gogh painting worth $50 million has been recovered at Cairo airport hours after being stolen from a city museum, according to Egypt’s culture minister.

“Two Italians, a man and a woman, were arrested while trying to leave the country with the painting,” Farouk Hosni said.

Van Gogh is believed to have painted Poppy Flowers in 1887. 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 earlier.

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 hosts works by Monet, Renoir and Degas.

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