Two stolen paintings by Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard have been found hanging on an Italian factory worker’s kitchen wall for almost 40 years, police have revealed.
The artworks – now worth at least 10.6 million euros – were stolen from a collector’s London home in 1970 and left on a train in Italy, with no indication of origin.
At a lost-property auction in 1975, the unsuspecting Fiat worker paid 45,000 Italian lire (23 euros) for them.
He hung them in his Turin home before taking them to Sicily when he retired.
The worker only grew suspicious about their origins when his son saw another Gauguin in a book and noticed similarities with the painting in his father’s kitchen.
The man consulted experts and police were eventually alerted.
Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard paintings have been found hanging on an Italian factory worker’s kitchen wall
The Gauguin painting, titled Fruits sur une table ou nature au petit chien (Fruits on a table or still life with a small dog), had been painted in 1889 and was thought to be worth between 10 million and 30 million euros, police said.
The Bonnard, La femme aux deux fauteuils (Woman with two armchairs), is valued at 600,000 euros.
According to a New York Times report published in June 1970, the two pieces were stolen from a property by Regent’s Park in London by three men posing as burglar alarm engineers.
The men asked the housekeeper to make them a cup of tea. By the time she returned, the paintings had been taken from their frames and the men had made their escape.
Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said: “It’s an incredible story, an amazing recovery. A symbol of all the work which Italian art police have put in over the years behind the scenes.”
Mariano Mossa, commander of Italy’s heritage police, said he believed the paintings had been discarded on a train travelling from Paris to Turin after they were stolen.
“They were bought by an art-loving worker, who hung them for 40 years in his kitchen, first in Turin then in Sicily, after he retired,” he added.
Paul Gauguin was a post-impressionist master known for his creative relationship with Vincent van Gogh. His fellow Frenchman Pierre Bonnard is regarded as one of the greatest colorists of modern art.
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Paintings by artists including Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin and Freud have been stolen from Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.
Police in the Netherlands said the works were taken from the Kunsthal Museum early on Tuesday morning.
The museum is showing works from the Triton Foundation as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations.
The paintings include Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, Picasso’s Tete d’Arlequin, Matisse’s La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune and Freud’s Woman with Eyes Closed.
Museum spokeswoman Patricia Wessels told the AFP news agency that police were alerted during the night when the alarm went off but that the thief, or thieves, had left the premises by the time police arrived.
Dutch police said the robbery took place Tuesday at around 03:00 AM.
Picasso’s Tete d’Arlequin
Roland Ekkers from Rotterdam Police said: “The alarm system in the Kunsthal is supposed to be state of the art. We’ve got no reason to believe that it’s not but somehow the people responsible for this found a way in and a way out.”
It is the biggest art theft in the Netherlands since 20 paintings were stolen from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum in 1991.
Chris Marinello, director of The Art Loss Register, which tracks stolen artworks, said it was clear some of the most valuable pieces in the collection were targeted.
He said the items taken could be worth “hundreds of millions of euros” – if sold legally at auction. However, he said that was now impossible, as the paintings have already been registered internationally as stolen.
The other stolen paintings are Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge, Gaugin’s Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee and Meyer de Hann’s Autoportrait.
“An initial investigation suggests that the robbery was well prepared,” a police statement read.
Police are now reviewing videotape footage and calling on any witnesses to come forward.
In a statement, the museum’s chairman Willem van Hassel said the museum would be closed on Tuesday.
The Triton Foundation is a collection of avant-garde art and the Kunsthal exhibition was showing its works by more than 150 famed artists, including Paul Cezanne, Salvador Dali, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
Although some of the foundation’s works have been on public display in the past, the current exhibition at the Kunsthal was the first time the entire collection had been shown together.
The Kunsthal museum, which means “art gallery” in Dutch, is a display space that has no permanent collection of its own.