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Stolen Gauguin hung 40 years on Fiat man’s wall

Two paintings worth millions of euros by the French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard, stolen in London in 1970 then abandoned on a train, have been recovered in Italy.

Stolen Gauguin hung 40 years on Fiat man's wall
Paintings by French artists Paul Gauguin, pictured, and Pierre Bonnard, which were stolen in the UK in the 1970s, have been found in Italy. Photo: Wikipedia

Gauguin's "Fruit on a table or small dog" and Bonnard's "Woman with two chairs," which were stolen from a family house in the British capital, were recovered from an Italian factory worker who had hung them in his kitchen for almost 40 years.

The Gauguin painting is worth between €10 and €30 million ($13 and $41 million) while the Bonnard is valued at some €600,000, Italy's heritage police said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The paintings turned up in a lost property department at a train station and were sold at auction in 1975 to a worker at a Fiat factory, who bought them for 45,000 Italian lire, or €23. He hung them on the wall of his kitchen.

"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 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.

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.

They also investigated the theft of possibly thousands of rare books from the Girolamini Library in Naples, which were allegedly smuggled out and sold internationally by its former director.

Mossa said in January that "the turnover generated by the illegal sale of works of art comes fourth on a world level behind the sale of weapons, drugs and financial products."

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ART

Masterpieces stolen in Verona heist found in Ukraine

Paintings including masterpieces by Rubens and Tintoretto that were stolen from a Verona museum last year have been found in Ukraine, Italy's culture minister said on Wednesday.

Masterpieces stolen in Verona heist found in Ukraine
The works were taken from the Castelvecchio museum in Verona, pictured. Photo: Matthew Roberts/Flick

“It is a great day,” the minister, Dario Franceschini, said in a statement. “The artworks will soon be back in the Castelvecchio (museum) in Verona.”

The recovery of the 17 paintings, which had a combined estimated value of €15 million euros ($16 million) follows the arrest in March of 12 suspected members or accomplices of a Moldovan gang which the Italian authorities believe carried out the heist in November 2015.
   
Franceschini thanked the Ukrainian authorities for their help in tracing the art works which Italian media reported had been stolen to order for a buyer based in Chechnya.
   
Ukrainian President Petro Porochenko said the recovery of the paintings was a sign to the world that “Ukraine is starting to effectively combat smuggling, including smuggling of artworks, but also to combat corruption.”
   
Verona's mayor also voiced his delight.
   
“We are breathing an enormous sigh of relief and we are very happy because it is an important piece of Verona that is to be returned to the citizens of the city and the whole world,” Flavio Tosi said.
   
At the time of the robbery, police said it appeared the works had been stolen 'to order' for a private collector, given the difficulty anyone would have in selling on works by such well-known artists.
   
Three masked men entered the 14th century building at the evening change of guard, slipping in after the museum had been emptied but before its state-of-the-art security system had been put into overnight mode.
 
 A security guard and another member of staff were tied up before the pictures were taken.
   
The guard was one of the suspects arrested, along with his brother and the brother's Moldovan girlfriend, who is suspected of having alerted the robbers to the potential to pull off the audacious heist.
   
The thieves' haul included “Portrait of a Lady” by Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens and “Male Portrait” by Venetian artist Tintoretto, as well as works by Pisanello, Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni Francesco Caroto and Hans de Jode.
   
Another acclaimed work, “The Conversion of Saul”, by Italian Renaissance painter Guilio Licinio, was damaged during the robbery but has since been successfully restored.

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