ROME — Two stolen paintings by the French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard hung on an Italian factory worker’s kitchen wall for almost 40 years — without his knowing just how valuable they were.
Now worth millions of euros, the artworks were stolen from a family house in London in 1970 and then abandoned on a Paris to Turin train.
Italy’s Culture Ministry unveiled the two paintings on Wednesday after they were recovered by police specialized in finding stolen art, following an “incredible” series of events.
The paintings were put away in the Italian Railways lost and found storage facility. At a lost-property auction in 1975, the unsuspecting Fiat worker paid 45,000 Italian lire for them — roughly equivalent to 22 euros ($30). The man, whom police did not name, hung them in his Turin home before taking them to Sicily when he retired.
Italian heritage police were alerted last summer when a friend of the worker grew suspicious of their value.
“There are all the elements for a nice novel; it is very unique,” Gen. Mariano Mossa, head of the Italian Heritage Police, told a news conference.
Locked up in a safe
Police soon matched the works with those stolen in London. A notice of the theft had appeared in The New York Times on July 6, 1970.
The Gauguin painting, titled “Fruits sur une table ou nature au petit chien” (Fruits on a table or still life with a small dog), is said to have been painted in 1889 and thought to be worth between 10 million and 30 million euros, police said.
The Bonnard painting is entitled “La femme aux deux fauteuils” (Woman with two armchairs).
Gauguin was a post-impressionist artist while Bonnard is regarded as one of the greatest colorists of modern art.
It was still unclear to whom the paintings would be returned, as the couple they were stolen from have died, apparently leaving no heirs. For now, they will remain in a police safe.
By Livia Borghese and Marie-Louise Gumuchian