Stolen Gauguin painting 'hung on factory worker's wall'
Stolen paintings by Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard hung on an Italian factory worker's kitchen wall for almost 40 years, police have revealed.
At a lost-property auction in 1975, the unsuspecting Fiat worker paid 45,000 Italian lire (23 euros; £19) for them.
He hung them in his Turin home before taking them to Sicily when he retired.
The worker only grew suspicious about their origins when his son saw another Gauguin in a book and noticed similarities with the painting in his father's kitchen.
The man consulted experts and police were eventually alerted.
The Gauguin painting, titled Fruits sur une table ou nature au petit chien (Fruits on a table or still life with a small dog), had been painted in 1889 and was thought to be worth between 10m and 30m euros (£8.3m-£24.8m), police said.
The Bonnard, La femme aux deux fauteuils (Woman with two armchairs), is valued at 600,000 euros (£500,000).
Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said: "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."
Mariano Mossa, commander of Italy's heritage police, said he believed the paintings had been discarded on a train travelling from Paris to Turin after they were stolen.
"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 added.
Gauguin was a post-impressionist master known for his creative relationship with Vincent van Gogh. His fellow Frenchman Pierre Bonnard is regarded as one of the greatest colourists of modern art.
Art Hostage Comments:
Under Italian law anyone who buys artworks from an auction in Italy gets to keep legal title despite the fact they may have been stolen. Therfore in this case there will be a dispute over legal title and that is why this bullshit story about the so called farmer buying them at auction is being used. The whole ruse would have been to take them to Italy when stolen from London and then put them through an auction thereby gaining legal title.
So don't be surprised to hear of an ongoing dispute about legal title. This has been used many times over the years to launder stolen artworks in countries with similar laws about legal title such as Belgium, Japan and Holland, where after thrirty years the legal title is gained by whomever has possession.
See this for Good Faith & Italian case law:
Art detective warns of missing checks that let stolen works go undiscovered
Christopher A Marinello, who specialises in recovering stolen art and resolving title disputes, said: "We do find a lot of stolen and looted artwork in civil law countries such as Italy, France and Germany. Consigners of tainted works of art often try to hide behind the good-faith purchase laws of these countries while performing little or no due diligence."
He spoke to the Observer after negotiating the return from Italy of a landscape painting by Jan van Goyen, a 17th-century Dutch painter, which was stolen in 1979. Negotiations were particularly delicate because, under Italian law, if someone buys a stolen work in good faith the buyer is sometimes entitled to keep it. Marinello was able to prove to the Italian auctioneer that the painting was one of nine pictures stolen at night by criminals who broke into the home of Paul Mitchell, an antique picture frame specialist in London.
The thieves forced open a window to enter his house. Mitchell assumed that the slight noise that he heard from downstairs was the family cat. "Police call these people 'creepers', night-time burglars who specialise in burgling people when they are in their house," Mitchell said. Describing waking to discover the theft, he added: "The anguish is a very long, deep-seated thing which never really goes away. Hardly a day goes by when I haven't thought about it."
The loss of the pictures was also painful because of their sentimental value. They belonged to his father, but had become so valuable that Mitchell could not afford to insure them for their full worth. Back in 1979, the paintings were valued at £400,000. Today the amount is well into seven figures. After the theft, Mitchell tried in vain to track down the paintings, offering a £5,000 reward for their recovery, placing advertisements in international journals and approaching a specialist art detective. But the trail went cold.
He was overwhelmed with emotion at being reunited with the Van Goyen, a beautiful beach scene painted in 1643 by a pioneer of naturalistic landscape painting. It surfaced by chance a few weeks ago after a Dutch dealer tried to buy it in Italy. Before paying for it, he decided to check the database of the Art Loss Register (ALR), which tracks down the world's stolen art from its headquarters in London.
Marinello, the ALR's general counsel, who has recovered £200m worth of stolen and looted art in seven years, confirmed that it had been stolen: "The Italian auction house involved did not search the work with the ALR, but the dealer did. While losing out on a potential future sale, the [dealer] protected his reputation and saved himself significant sums in legal fees defending a case over title to the painting."
Unless more dealers, collectors and auctioneers make such checks, he added, other stolen items will remain undetected. "It's the same concept as having a survey done prior to purchasing a home. Considering the values involved, why wouldn't you want to know if there were serious title issues before purchasing fine art?"
Asked why they had not made such checks, Marinello stopped short of suggesting that the buyers had not wanted to know about doubts over an artwork's legality: "Perhaps it's the excitement of getting a good deal."
A reward is being offered for information leading to the recovery of the other eight lost paintings, including Still Life with Oyster Shells (1646) by Pieter Claesz, and Lake of Nemi at Sunset (1780) by Joseph Wright of Derby.
Mitchell said his experience of being reunited with the Van Goyen after more than three decades will give hope to other people who have suffered thefts of their family's treasured items.