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Gauguin painting stolen 44 years ago hung in autoworker's kitchen

A pair of paintings by French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard that had been missing for four decades has been recovered by Italian authorities who said that the works of art were hanging in a kitchen of a retired Sicilian autoworker who was unaware of their value.

Though the autoworker paid little for the paintings, they are both highly prized. The Gauguin is believed to be worth $14 million to $41 million.

Officials in Italy held an unveiling ceremony Wednesday in Rome for the two paintings: Gauguin's "Fruits sur une Table ou Nature au Petit Chien," or "Fruit on a Table or Still Life With a Puppy," and Bonnard's "La Femme aux Deux Fauteuils," or "Woman on Two Armchairs."

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The paintings are believed to have been stolen from the London home of a collector in 1970, according to reports. They were abandoned on a train and eventually ended up at an auction in Italy where a factory worker for Fiat purchased them in 1975 for just $30.

The Bonnard has an estimated value of about $827,000.

After hanging them in his home in Turin, the autoworker took them with him to Sicily upon retirement. He notified authorities of the paintings after a relative saw similarities with another Gauguin. The name of the retired autoworker has not been made public.

It remains unclear what will happen to the paintings. The owner from whom they were stolen was reportedly Terence Kennedy, the widower of a daughter of one of the founders of Marks & Spencer, the British retailer.  

Kennedy is dead, and he and his wife, Mathilda, were not believed to have any children. The theft was carried out by three individuals posing as a police officer and burglar alarm engineers, according to a UPI report from 1970.

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