Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard art recovered after hanging on a kitchen wall

Story highlights

  • Italian police recover two valuable paintings that were stolen more than 40 years ago
  • The art was stolen in London and later abandoned on a Paris-to-Turin train
  • A factory worker bought the paintings at a lost-property auction in 1975
  • He paid about 22 euros for both, and one may be worth at least 10 million euros now, police say

Two stolen paintings by the French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard hung in an Italian man's home for nearly 40 years -- without his knowing just how valuable they were.

Now worth millions of euros, the artworks were stolen from a family house in London in 1970 and then abandoned on a Paris-to-Turin train.

Italy's Culture Ministry unveiled the two paintings Wednesday after they were recovered by police specialized in finding stolen art, following an "incredible" series of events.

The paintings were put away in the Italian Railways lost and found storage facility. The man, a factory worker for the car company Fiat, paid 45,000 Italian lire (roughly 22 euros or U.S. $30) for the pieces at auction in 1975. The man was an art lover, but he had no idea of the real value of the paintings, police said.

The man, whom police did not name, hung the works in his Turin home before taking them to Sicily when he retired.

Italian heritage police were alerted last summer when a friend of the worker grew suspicious of their value.

"There are all the elements for a nice novel; it is very unique," Gen. Mariano Mossa, head of the Italian Heritage Police, said at a news conference.

Locked up in a safe

Police soon matched the works with those stolen in London. A notice of the theft had appeared in The New York Times on July 6, 1970.

The Gauguin painting -- "Fruits on a Table or Still Life with a Small Dog" -- is said to date to 1889 and is believed to be worth between $13.7 million and $41 million, police said.

The Bonnard painting is titled "La Femme aux Deux Fauteuils" ("Woman with Two Armchairs").

Gauguin was a post-impressionist artist, and Bonnard is regarded as one of the greatest colorists of modern art.

It was still unclear to whom the paintings would be returned, as the couple they were stolen from have died, apparently leaving no heirs. For now, they will remain in a police safe.

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Editors' Note: This article has been edited to remove plagiarized content after CNN discovered multiple instances of plagiarism by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, a former CNN news editor.