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Paul Gauguin’s Fruits on a Table
Answer to Name This Famous Antique Game - February 2017
By Mike McLeod

This is Paul Gauguin’s Fruits sur une table (Fruits on a Table). In addition to its creator, it is famous for its story.

Fruits on a Table was painted in 1889. In 1970, it and another painting (Woman With Two Armchairs by Pierre Bonnard) were stolen from the London apartment of Sir Mark Kennedy and his wife Mathilda Marks—the daughter of the founder of the UK retail home and food store chain Marks & Spencer, which was established in 1882 and has 1, 382 stores worldwide.1After the burglary, the paintings seemed to disappear.

The thieves boarded a train with their loot and made their way across France. In Turin, Italy, they exited the train—leaving the paintings on board. Were they nervous about being caught? No one knows because they were never found.

However, train workers did find the paintings, but not knowing their value, they took them to the lost and found storage area. Five years later, the paintings appeared in a Turin railway auction where they were purchased by a Fiat factory worker for about $25.

For 40 years, the paintings remained in his possession. It was not until the owner’s son saw Fruits sur une table in an art book that they learned its value and that it was stolen. The father and son then contacted the police who took possession of both paintings.

But the story does not end there. Under Italian law, if there are no claimants to a lost or stolen item and if the item was purchased in good faith not knowing it was stolen, a court can award the item to the last person to possess it. The original owners had no children, and no claimants came forward so in 2014, an Italian court awarded the paintings to the retired Fiat factory worker.

In 2014, Fruits sur une table was valued at £8million to £25million, and Woman With Two Armchairs was put at about £500,000.2 The happy owner, who requested anonymity, reported he had plans to sell the paintings privately. No word since if he did, but one can assume.

Paul Gauguin, ca. 1891

Gauguin’s When Will You Marry?

Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) was purchased by State of Qatar for an undisclosed amount in 2015, but is believed to be about $300 million. If so, it is tied with Willem de Kooning’s Interchange for the most expensive painting; it also sold for $300 million in 2015.

Ted Carlton of Utah correctly identified Fruits sur une table.

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Credit: telegraph.co.uk, “Italian pensioner awarded ownership of Gauguin stolen from London flat,” by Nick Squires. Dec. 12, 2104
1 Corporate.marksandspencer.com.
2 Guardian.com, “Stolen paintings hung on Italian factory worker's wall for almost 40 years.”
All photos are public domain, PD-US.


 

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