Instead of trying to sell the works – valued today at $50 million – on the black market or to a specific art patron willing to purchase purloined paintings, they dumped the works on a train traveling from Paris to Turin, Italy.
The paintings were never claimed and railway authorities, unaware of the provenance of the masterpieces, put the works up for sale in 1975, when they were purchased at auction by an employee of automobile manufacturer Fiat for $25.
The paintings – Gauguin’s “Still Life of Fruit on a Table With a Small Dog” and Bonnard’s “The Girl With Two Chairs,” hung in the unnamed individual’s kitchen for nearly 40 years in Turin before he took them with him to a retirement home in Sicily.
Recently, the auto worker’s son decided to have the paintings evaluated by an art expert, who realized that the “Still Life” was likely a work by Gauguin, a leading French Post-Impressionist, according to the New York Post.
The police became involved when it was concluded that both of the works had been stolen in England four decades earlier, the publication wrote, adding that the former Fiat employee is not facing charges because he bought the works at a legitimate sale.
The paintings were stolen from the collection of Sir Mark Kennedy in England on June 6, 1970. Kennedy and his wife died without heirs, and without ever knowing the fate of their paintings, according to ABC News.
“Press reports from that month say that three men, one posing as a policeman and the others as burglar alarm engineers duped the housekeeper, telling her they were checking the alarm system,” the network added. “While she made them a cup of tea, they removed the paintings from the frames.”
The couple died without heirs, meaning authorities will have to work to determine the paintings’ rightful owner.
(Top: Italian Carabinieri stand next to the two stolen paintings, Paul Gauguin’s “Still Life of Fruit on a Table With a Small Dog” and Pierre Bonnard’s “The Girl With Two Chairs” during a Wednesday press conference in Rome.)