Could it be true:

  • John's paintings of his cat were auctioned. = Some paintings made and owned by John depicting his cat were auctioned.
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    It's ambiguous. "John's paintings" could be painted by John, could be owned by John, could be both. – Hot Licks Feb 16 '18 at 3:43
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    The possessive in English (and many other language) does not always speak of pure ownership: Napolean's defeat at Waterloo is not a defeat that Napolean owned in the sense of a possession. So, since this site is for advanced users of English, I highly encourage you to do research on this topic. – Arm the good guys in America Feb 16 '18 at 4:28

It could be true (paintings not painting)

But a safer assumption is that John is deceased or had his property siezed by debt collectors, for him to be parting with mementos of his beloved pet.

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