Ownership of A £28 million (35 million euros) Gauguin painting, stolen in London 40 years ago and purchased by an Italian factory worker, at an unclaimed baggage auction, has been established by the courts. The worker will now be allowed to keep the masterpiece. It was discovered to be the real deal, when he brought it in for a valuation, after hanging it on his wall for decades. The painting was revealed in a high profile press conference, after police were contacted by the owner’s son, who consulted experts, when he saw a similar painting by Gauguin in a book.
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 in his kitchen, first in Turin then in Sicily, after he retired”.
The paintings were stolen from Mathilda Marks, an heiress to the Marks and Spencer fortune and taken from the Regents Park flat she shared with her American husband in Chester Terrace, in London, in 1970. The thieves posing as burglar alarm maintenance men entered the house and asked the housekeeper to make them a cup of tea. The robbers removed the canvases from the frames in a professional manner before fleeing. The masterpieces were later found abandoned on an Italian train. The works wound up in a railway lost-property auction, where they were purchased by the present owner for around £20.
Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said: “It’s an incredible story, an amazing discovery. A symbol of all the work which Italian art police have put in over the years behind the scenes.”
The current owner of the paintings said,”As a simple factory worker, I am proud of having been able to appreciate and buy two masterpieces even though I did not know what they were,” the 70-year-old Italian man stated in La Stampa one of Italy’s leading dailies. “What makes me most happy is having had the pleasure of living with them for so long,” the pensioner, who said he wished to remain anonymous out of concern “because of the amount of money involved”, he added.
The Gauguin oil on canvas, titled ‘Fruits sur une table ou nature au petit chien’ (Fruits on a table or still life with a small dog), was created in 1889. Another painting purchased at the same time by Bonnard, ‘La femme aux deux fauteuils’ Woman with two armchairs was also part of the purchase. and valued at £600,000. Both are both considered museum quality and will have increased in value collectively. Under Italian law the former Fiat worker, will now be allowed to keep the paintings, as he proved that they were bought in good faith and no other claimant has come forward..
“I’m already in negotiations over the sale of the Gauguin,” the 70-year-old told La Repubblica newspaper. “Lots of private collectors have contacted me and I’m considering the offers along with my family.” Mrs Marks had no children therefore no claimants came forward. “I acquired the painting in good faith and that has been recognised by the authorities in Rome,” Nicolo said. The paintings were awarded to the pensioner in a court in Rome, this week, based on information provided by a special unit of the Carabinieri police that specialises in art and antiquities. London’s Metropolitan Police stated that if any claimants in the UK had come forward, the information would have been passed to the Italian police. But this was not the case and the force had no objections to the paintings being awarded to the Italian pensioner.