A painting by French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin that was stolen in Britain in 1970 has turned up hanging in the kitchen of a retired factory worker in Sicily, Italian police say.
With it was a second missing painting by Pierre Bonnard, another French avant garde artist of the late 19th century, that the owner bought along with the Gauguin at an auction in 1975 for only 45,000 lire (NZ$37.37).
The Gauguin oil-on-canvas, whose value police estimated at 10 to 30 million euros (NZ$16m to NZ$48m), is very different from the colourful paintings of Tahitian native women he produced after leaving Europe for Polynesia in the 1890s.
It shows two bowls of fruit on a wooden table covered by a white tablecloth, with a small dog sleeping on the floor in the background. Signed and dated 1889, it is dedicated "to the countess N".
The Bonnard, also signed, portrays a little girl dressed in white and sitting in what appears to be an orchard.
"These two masterpieces have unique, unimaginable stories," Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told reporters when the pilfered paintings were displayed at his ministry on Wednesday.
The two paintings were stolen from a London home and found in a train in the northern Italian city of Turin, where their smuggler apparently abandoned them because of a border control or some other check, the Carabinieri military police speculated.
Railway workers in Turin found the paintings and placed them in the lost-and-found deposit. Without knowing their value, the state railway company later sold them at an auction to the unidentified factory worker.
The man told police he bought the paintings because he loved art and hung them in his kitchen first in Turin and later, after he retired, in Sicily.
Investigators were alerted to the missing paintings by experts examining them for the man's son, who became curious about the origin of the Gauguin painting when he saw a very similar one in an old catalogue, police said.
Further research by police then led to their recovery.
"We're in contact with the English authorities to try to understand if someone can legitimately lay claim to the ownership of the two paintings," Carabinieri police General Mariano Mossa said.