A pair of stolen masterpiece paintings valued at $50 million have been recovered after being bought at an auction for $25 and hung in an auto worker’s kitchen for years.
The masterworks were described as Paul Gauguin’s “Still Life of Fruit on a Table With a Small Dog” and Pierre Bonnard’s “The Girl With Two Chairs.” They were stolen from the home of a British couple in 1970.
An unnamed Fiat employee, described by police as a “lover of art,” bought the two paintings in an auction of items left in the lost and found department of the national railway. The paintings were reportedly left behind on a train from Paris to Turin and were never claimed. Railway authorities put them up for auction in 1975.
The Fiat worker was unaware of their value, according to Gen. Mariano Mossa, the head of the police’s Cultural Heritage department. The Fiat employee purchased the two masterpieces for $25 at the auction. He first had the paintings hanging in his kitchen, and after he retired, he brought them back to his native Sicily.
The auto worker’s son had decided to sell the paintings last year and that is when they came to the attention of police.
“The present owner of the paintings was circulating pictures of the painting because he decided to sell them. He did so in good faith, as he did not know they were stolen. That is when we became aware of them and started researching,” the spokesman for the Art Theft Squad of the Italian police told ABC News.
The paintings were stolen from the collection of Sir Mark Kennedy in England on June 6, 1970. Kennedy and his wife died without heirs, and without ever knowing the fate of their paintings. Press reports from that month say that three men, one posing as a policeman and the others as burglar alarm engineers duped the housekeeper, telling her they were checking the alarm system. While she made them a cup of tea, they removed the paintings from the frames.
Authorities will now have to determine who are the rightful owner of the paintings.