Truth can be stranger than fiction. A Paul Gauguin still life that was stolen from a wealthy collector's home in Britain was found hanging for 40 years in a Sicilian autoworker's kitchen, according to reports in Associated Press (AP) today (April 2).
"The worker bought the painting along with one of lesser value by another French artist, Pierre Bonnard for about $100 at a legitimate 1975 Italian state railway auction of unclaimed lost items," said Maj. Massimiliano Quagliarella of the paramilitary Carabinieri art theft squad to AP. "Italian authorities estimated Wednesday that the still life's worth in a range from $14 million to $40 million."
"The painting, showing fruit, seemed to fit in with dining room décor," Quagliarella told The Associated Press about why the autoworker placed the art work in his kitchen.
"The painting is believed to have "traveled" on a Paris-to-Turin train before the worker purchased it," said Gen. Mariano Mossa to AP. "When the autoworker retired to Sicily, the man's son, who studied architecture at university, noticed a telling detail: a dog curled up in the corner. Dogs were sometimes a signature motif for Gauguin's work."
"The painting depicts two bowls, brimming with brightly colored grapes, apples and other pieces of fruit, posed on a table. In black on the canvas is painted "89" an indication that it was painted in 1889," added AP. "It now measures 46.5 centimeters by 53 centimeters (about 18 by 20 inches). That is slightly smaller than the work as Gauguin created it, because the thieves had cut it out of its frame, police said."
"The painting will remain in the custody of the art squad because the police have yet to receive an official notice that it is stolen," Quagliarella said to the media. "The art squad traced it using newspaper articles in 1970 reporting the theft of a wealthy London family's collection."
"London's Scotland Yard have been in contact with Italian police, but said in a statement Wednesday it had not been possible to trace the records of the theft in the 1970s. Italian police said they found a photo of the painting in a June, 28, 1961 auction in London," added the report.
Chris Marinello of Art Recovery International, said the story of hidden art treasures uncovered has happened before.
"In 2006, the Duchess of Argyll lost a tiara, a diamond Cartier brooch and other jewels at Glasgow Airport. Six years later they were put up for auction — it turned out they had been sold by the airport as unclaimed property. After negotiations, they were returned to the duchess," added AP.
Marinello said there could be a battle for ownership of the paintings that were lost. He said the autoworker could have a right to them under Italian law if he could prove he has a legal right to them.
Staten Island art historians, do you feel that the Sicilian autoworker should keep the masterpieces or return them to the authorities in good faith? We would welcome your comments and feedback.