Saturday, 5 April 2014

He may not know much about art, but he knows what he likes

“Reuniting two urns of ashes with the families who had lost them was particularly heart-warming,” Julie Haley of Transport for London Lost Property department told ‘Metro’, “it was very emotional for all of us.”

Transport operators find extraordinary things left behind on trains. Glasses. Mobile phones. False teeth. And, as we’ve just seen, even urns of ashes.

Lost Property staff do go to great lengths to return mislaid items to their owners. But sometimes they just can’t find them, in which case after a decent passage of time, they put them up for sale. This happened in 1975 when the Italian railways auctioned off, among other items, two paintings that had been left on board a train from France in 1970.

The event gave rise to the news story that most tickled my fancy this week. I thought it worth sharing with you, just in case you missed it.

A factory worker from Fiat  turned up for the auction and decided he liked the paintings. He bought them for 45,000 lira, or in today’s prices, a little over €400. Not an inconsiderable sum for a factory worker but, hey, everyone likes a good picture to brighten up the place.

And brighten it up the paintings did. Even after his retirement, when he moved from Turin to Sicily, where they adorned the walls of his kitchen. Nearly forty years of pleasure he had from them, so I suppose you’d have to say he had his money’s worth.

But he had a son, whose knowledge of art was perhaps superior to his father’s, even though his taste could not have been. The son happened to be glancing through a book on the subject and was struck by the similarity of style between a Gauguin painting and one of those hanging in his dad’s kitchen. He called in the authorities.

It turns out that what the father had on his wall were Paul Gauguin’s Fruits sur une table ou nature au petit chien and Pierre Bonnard’s Femme aux deux fauteuils. Estimated now to be worth €30 million and €650,000 respectively.

A reasonable return on a €400 investment.

Two painting that brought light into the life of Fiat car worker
Not that he’ll be able to keep it, I imagine. Turns out that the paintings had been stolen from the London house of Mathilda Marks, daughter of one of the founders of Marks and Spencer (I’ll leave it to you to guess which one). Presumably the thieves had panicked while travelling into Italy and abandoned the paintings. 

Unless like the owner of the urns of ashes, they just forgot them, proving you earn nothing from carelessness, and that hopes can quickly turn to ashes.

What of the ex-Fiat worker? He’d like the paintings back. I sympathise: there must be an unsightly pair of patches on his kitchen wall now, and the view will be much less appealing.

But he frankly has no one to blame but himself. He should have brought up his son to be less talkative.

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