A Paul Gauguin painting, worth an estimated $48-$50 million dollars, that was stolen in London in 1970 was recovered in the home of a retired Italian Fiat factory worker, hanging on his kitchen wall. The post-impressionist 1889 Paul Gauguin painting is known as “Small Dog” or “Fruit on a Table.”
The Paul Gauguin painting was stolen from the family of one of the co-founders of Marks & Spencer, a department store chain. In 1970, in the vicinity of Regents Park, three men pretending to be burglar alarm company employees stole the painting and one by 19th century painter Pierre Bonnard worth an estimated $690,000. The Bonnard painting, “Woman with Two Chairs,” depicts a woman dressed in white who is seated in a chair in a luxurious green garden.
Auction house experts in New York City put a somewhat different estimate on the paintings, $15 million for the Paul Gauguin one and $2 million for the Bonnard.
Reportedly, the Paul Gauguin painting was owned by American socialite Terence Kennedy, the husband of Mathilda Marks, who was the daughter of Michael Marks, a co-founder of Marks & Spencer. Both Terence and Mathilda are now deceased.
According to the police, it’s likely that the thieves abandoned the paintings on a train because they were worried that they would get caught trying to sneak the canvases across the border.
In 1975, the railway company sold the paintings at an auction, without realizing their value. The Fiat worker whose house the paintings were discovered in paid approximately $23, and he hung them in his kitchen in Turin, and later in Sicily, after he moved.
The retired factory worker’s son, who is an architecture student, realized that the paintings were stolen when he saw the same Paul Gauguin painting in a book. He first had experts examine the paintings, then he called in the police when his suspicions were confirmed.
Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini unveiled the two paintings to the public yesterday, declaring that they had “unimaginable stories” that they could tell.
On a similar note, just this past November over 1,200 works of art that the Nazis had stolen during WWII were discovered in a Munich apartment. Cornelius Gurlitt, who is the son of a Nazi-era art dealer, lived in the apartment.
Also, in the summer of 2013 a Romanian woman admitted that she might have burned stolen artwork by artist like Monet, Gauguin, and Picasso to protect her son, who authorities suspected had stolen the paintings from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.
Police in Italy maintain the world’s largest stolen art data bank. It contains the details of around 5.7 million pilfered artworks. In 2013, they recovered “Le Nu au Bouquet,” a painting by Marc Chagall, from the home of a private collector in Bologna. The Chagall had been stolen in 2002 from a yacht owned by a US tycoon.
If no heirs come forward to claim the Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard masterpieces, the paintings might be given back to the retired Sicilian factory worker, who had been unaware that he was the owner of two art masterpieces, until his son apprised him of the possibility.
Written by: Douglas Cobb