ROME: Italy yesterday said it had recovered a painting worth millions of euros by Paul Gauguin, stolen in London in 1970, bought by an Italian factory worker for a pittance and hung in his kitchen for almost 40 years.
The French artist’s Fruit on a table or small dog was stolen from a house in the British capital along with Woman with two chairs by Pierre Bonnard, and they were recovered together in Italy from the pensioner, who used to work for Italian auto giant Fiat.
The Gauguin painting is worth between ¤10 and ¤30m ($13 and $41m) while the Bonnard is valued at some ¤600,000, Italy’s heritage police said at a press conference yesterday.
The paintings turned up in a lost property department at a train station and were sold at auction in 1975 to the Fiat factory worker, who bought them for 45,000 Italian lire, or ¤23.
“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,” Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told journalists.
The paintings by the French artists were found last month after a lengthy investigation, which began when police received a tip-off that they may have been stolen.
Investigators trawled through back catalogues of exhibitions from the time of the theft, from which the 1889 Gauguin mysteriously disappeared after it was stolen.
They then used newspaper reports about the 1970s theft in The New York Times and a Singaporean paper to trace the paintings back to the London-based family.
“The two paintings were presumably left on a train from Paris to Turin,” said Mariano Mossa, who heads up the heritage police.
“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 said.
The Gauguin had been cut out of its frame by the thieves and now measures 46.5 centimetres by 53 centimetres, down from its original size of 49 centimetres by 54 centimetres.
Italy opened a special department to investigate art thefts in 1969, the first in the world, which is situated in a Baroque palace in the centre of Rome’s bustling tourist centre.
The heritage police manages the largest data bank on stolen art in the world, with details on some 5.7 million objects.
Last year they found a painting by Russian-born Jewish artist Marc Chagall, “Le Nu au Bouquet,” in a private collector’s home in Bologna that had been stolen from a US tycoon’s yacht in Italy in 2002.