News Detail

Stolen paintings hung on Italian factory worker's wall for almost 40 years

Two works by French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard thought to be worth millions were bought for equivalent of £300

In 1975 a worker at the car firm Fiat went along to an auction of lost property organised by the Italian national railway in Turin.

He paid 45,000 lira (£32 – equivalent to about £300 today) for two paintings that caught his eye – one a still life and one an image of a woman relaxing in her garden.

For almost 40 years, the man – whose name has not been made public – kept the pictures hanging in his kitchen. They accompanied him on his move, post-retirement, to Sicily. At no point until last year, believe Italian police, did he realise quite what a bargain his purchase had been.

Now it has emerged that the paintings are stolen works by French artistsPaul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard, and the first – a still life dating from 1869 – has an estimated value of between €10m and €30m (£8.3m to £24.8m). The second, entitled La femme aux Deux Fauteuils (woman with two armchairs) is believed to be worth around €600,000 (£497,000).

Stolen in London in 1970, reportedly from the widower of a daughter of one of the Marks & Spencer co-founders, they were unveiled on Wednesday to applause at the Italian culture ministry in Rome.

Mariano Mossa, commander of the Italian heritage police, admitted that the events leading to the recovery were "decidedly original".

As for the ex-Fiat employee, Mossa said he hoped very much that the paintings would bereturned to him.