Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard found in Italy (ctd.)

December 15 2014

Image of Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard found in Italy (ctd.)

Picture: Gauguin

I reported earlier in the year on a Gauguin and Bonnard discovered in Italy, which turned out to have been stolen in London in 1970. Now, the Italian authorities have decided that the current owner, a former Fiat worker identified only as 'Nicolo' who bought them for about £19 in an auction in Italy in 1975, can keep the works, after UK police said that nobody had come forward to claim the works. Reports the Telegraph:

The paintings were originally owned by Mathilda Marks, an heiress to the Marks and Spencer empire, but were stolen by con men from the flat she shared with her American husband in Chester Terrace, near Regent's Park in London, in 1970.

The thieves smuggled the paintings by train through France, intending to enter Italy, but panicked while waiting to cross the border and left them on a train heading towards Turin.

They were found by railway inspectors and languished for years in a dusty lost property office before being put up for auction by Italy's national railway network in 1975.

The Fiat worker, who regularly attended the railway auctions as a hobby, bought the two masterpieces for 45,000 lire – just £19 in today's money.

Whilst I wouldn't wish to deny 'Nicolo' his windfall, it seems to me that this outcome only serves to legitimise art theft, if it's seen that there are no longer any 'victims', and enough time passes between the crime and the art being discovered. In the UK, if you die intestate and without heirs, the state gets your estate. Wouldn't it be better if the UK government had put in a claim for the paintings, and allocated them to a museum?

Update - a reader writes:

Yes, but the estate would only go to the Crown (State) if the intestate was domiciled in England or Wales for which we do not have the facts.

Update II - a reader very astutely notes:

It is strange to me that the insurers, would not have been considered the rightful owners if they had paid for the loss.

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