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Art

Stolen Gauguin, Bonnard paintings turn up in Sicily over 40 years later

Two artworks – one by Paul Gauguin and the other by Pierre Bonnard - stolen in 1970 have been recovered in Sicily. The paintings had been taken from Britain to Italy where they were later sold off.

Italian police tasked with recovering stolen art announced a surprising find on Wednesday. After more than 40 decades, two paintings belonging to an English collector were recovered in the home of a retired factory worker in Sicily.

The main painting originated from the 19th century French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin and has been identified as "Fruit on a Table with a Small Dog" (1889). The son of the painting's Sicilian owner, an architecture student, had contacted authorities after noticing similarities between the still life hanging on their kitchen wall and those listed in a catalogue of Paul Gauguin's works. Experts said the second work – "Woman with Two Chairs" - was from French avant garde artist Pierre Bonnard.

"These two masterpieces have unique, unimaginable stories," Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told reporters on Wednesday, calling the find "extraordinary."

The theft of the two artworks occurred in Britian in 1970. The thief or thieves then transported the paintings to Italy, where they were found on an Italian train and subsequently placed in lost-and-found. Without knowing their significance, the Italian railway put them on auction in Turin in 1975 where their current owner purchased them for 45,000 lires (less than 200 euros).

It was not immediately clear where the Gauguin and Bonnard would travel to next. Italian authorities contacted London's Scotland Yard about the recovered artworks in order to "try to understand if someone can legitimately lay claim to the ownership of the two paintings," Carabinieri police General Mariano Mossa told reporters.

The Gauguin painting has an estimated value of between 15 and 35 million euros ($20 million-$48 million), while the Bonnard was estimated at around 600,000 euros.

kms/lw (AP, AFP, Reuters,dpa)