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April 16, 2024

Priceless art that has been rediscovered

Ruhi Gilder 
It sounds like the plot of a good story, but often, fact is stranger than fiction. Artworks by renowned artists overlooked as fakes or pieces passed down through generations and dismissed as junk often turn out to be million-dollar masterpieces. Recently, an Albrecht Dürer drawing initially bought at an estate sale for $30 was valued at more than $10 million. Scroll through this list of similar treasures from the Dutch Golden Age to colonial Boston that have fetched astronomical prices upon valuation by experts.  
The Virgin and Child by Albrecht Dürer 
Photo Courtesy: Agnews Gallery
Photo Courtesy: Agnews Gallery
In 2016, at a regular Massachusetts estate sale, a square unframed linen drawing was bought for a modest $30 price tag. Boston-based art collector Clifford Schorer, who is a consultant to the Agnews Gallery, told CNN that he came across the rare artwork purely by chance. On the way to a party in Massachusetts in 2019, he went to a bookstore that sold collectible volumes to buy a gift for the host. At this store, the bookseller told him his friend had a Dürer drawing and asked Schorer to examine it. The consultant knew he had his hands on something special and traced the work’s provenance for over 3 years. It is thought to be dating back to 1503, having undergone technical age analysis, it bears the monogram and watermark of the artist. Featuring a detailed sketch of a mother and child, the 16th century drawing has now been identified as an artwork by prominent German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer and valued in excess of $10 million. 
 Sunset at Montmajour by Vincent van Gogh 
Photo Courtesy: Vincent van Gogh
Photo Courtesy: Vincent van Gogh
The Sunset at Montmajour now occupies a place at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The artist’s 1888 painting was once considered a fake and banished to the attic. Belonging to Theo van Gogh, the painting was purchased by Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad in 1908. Mustad, however, was told by the French ambassador to Sweden that it was fake, and thus banished to the attic. In 1991, even the Van Gogh Museum dismissed it as it was unsigned. However, in 2011, the painting underwent a 2-year investigation by experts using new technologies, colour tests and brushwork to determine that it was indeed by the legendary artist. Additionally, the artwork was listed as part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890 and had the number “180” painted on the back, signifying its place in his inventory. A letter penned by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo on 5 July 1888 also describes this painting as a landscape that he painted the previous day, while in Arles, in Southern France. The Sunset at Montmajour is said to be painted during the same period in which van Gogh produced his renowned Sunflowers.  
The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell) by Rembrandt 
Photo Courtesy: Nye & Company
Photo Courtesy: Nye & Company
The discovery of this Rembrandt piece almost resembles the scene from a dramatic film. On 22 September 2015, at auction house Nye & Company in Bloomfield, New Jersey, two international bidders fought for a seemingly unremarkable lot named “Continental School, “Triple Portrait with a Lady Fainting.” It surfaced in 2014 among the collection of a New Jersey family and bidding started at $250. However, the two bidders surpassed the pre-sale estimate, shocking the patrons and staff at the auction house. The work of art was eventually sold to Parisian dealer Talabardon & Gautier, for the bargain price of $870,000. The painting was then sold it to Thomas Kaplan, a New York financier and Dutch Golden Age art collector, for a reported $3 to $4 million. The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell), was made by Rembrandt in 1624-25. Art conservationists later discovered Rembrandt’s initials on the painting, under a layer of varnish, confirming its provenance. The painting is part of a series that the artist likely created to depict the five senses, (the artwork that represents Taste is still missing) and portrays an unconscious person being revived with what appear to be smelling salts.  
Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio 
Photo Courtesy: Nye & Company
Photo Courtesy:The Toulouse Caravaggio
This painting was found by a Toulouse auctioneer in a dark attic in 2014. However, it is the subject of controversy in the art world. Historians stand divided on its origins and the Louvre turned down the opportunity to purchase the work. It was tested and X-rayed at the Louvre. Its age is consistent with an authentic Caravaggio piece. If it is indeed the Italian painter’s work, it would be the second version depicting the Old Testament scene by the Baroque artist, the first of which is a painting that lies in the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome. The canvas was estimated to bring in around $171 million at auction, but New York Times reported that was sold pre-auction in a private sale to billionaire art collector J. Tomilson Hill, for a price significantly above its starting bid. 
A Large Group of Punchinelli by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 
Photo Courtesy: Dreawatts
Photo Courtesy: Dreweatts
In October 2021, it was reported that an 18th-century Italian drawing was rediscovered after being tucked away in an attic for close to a hundred years. It was found in Weston Hall in Northamptonshire, England in the Sitwell family’s estate. BBC reported that the artwork was bought by writer Osbert Sitwell at a 1936 Christie’s sale. Henrietta Sitwell who found the Tiepolo painting in one of the attics at her family’s estate studied art history in college and immediately knew she had stumbled upon something special. Experts identified the drawing as that of Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770), whose large-scale frescoes were an important part of the extravagant Italian Rococo style of art. The small ink drawing depicts a gathering of large-nosed, hunchbacked clowns celebrating and eating gnocchi. The drawing was part of auction house Dreweatts November 16 and 17 lots and was estimated to fetch more than $200,000. Another work by the Italian painter, Portrait of a Lady by Flora was also discovered in the attic of a French chateau and went under the hammer at Sotheby’s for $3.1 million in 2017. 
Fabergé Figure Of A Cossack Bodyguard  
Photo Courtesy: Faberge
A figurine of the personal Cossack bodyguard of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, sold for a record $5.2 million at Stair Galleries in Hudson, USA on 26th October 2013. Dated 1912, the statue of Kamer-Kazak N.N. Pustynnikov, far exceeded its pre-sale estimate of $500,000 to $800,000. Found in an upstate New York attic, the figure was first purchased at Hammer Galleries, in Manhattan, by a George Davis in 1934, and had been in the same family since. The piece has now transferred hands to Wartski, London-based jewellers to the Queen of England. The hardstone carving is especially rare, as experts estimate that Fabergé produced no more than fifty hardstone carvings of human figures. 
Le Tricorne by Pablo Picasso  
Photo Courtesy: Faberge
Photo Courtesy: John McInnis Auctioneers
In the back of a closet in Maine, US, sat a masterpiece by artist Pablo Picasso himself. Experts suggest that the piece was a preparatory sketch for the 1919 Russian ballet Le Tricorne. The New England seller claims that their grandmother and great-aunt both studied art in Europe during the 1920s, and the aunt reportedly collected “rare books and art.” The 16×16 inch sketch is framed and inscribed at the bottom with the artist’s signature. Having sat in a closet for 50 years, Amesbury-based John McInnis Auctioneers sold the lot at auction in June 2021 for more than $150,000.  
1652 Silver Shilling 
A 1652 silver coin minted in colonial Boston sold at auction in 2021, for $351,912. According to the Associated Press, the one shilling coin is one of 40 of its kind known to survive today. The hidden treasure was found in a candy tin by a descendant of early New England settler William Wentworth. In the candy tin lay hundreds of old coins, all discovered at the family’s estate in Northumberland, England. The historic piece was sold by coin specialist auction house Morton and Eden and is said to be an excellent example of a New England shilling, struck by John Hull, Boston Mintmaster, for use as currency by early settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The coin is embedded with the initials NE for New England on one side, and the Roman numeral XII, representing the 12 pennies in a shilling, on the other. 
Skull by Gian Lorenzo Bernini 
Photo Courtesy: Semper Gallery
Photo Courtesy: Semper Gallery
An ideal example of ‘hidden in plain sight,’ is this carved marble skull by Baroque sculptor Bernini. The realistic-looking skull remained overlooked as a skull of unidentified origins in Germany’s Pillnitz Castle. This was until art curator Claudia Kryza-Gersch sent it to the State Art Collections of Dresden for restoration. As researchers puzzled over its origins, it emerged that Pope Alexander VII commissioned the work in 1655 from Bernini, as a reminder of mortality. After Alexander VII’s death in 1667, the skull remained in his family until 1728, when it was purchased by Augustus the Strong. The skull went on view under the artist’s name for the first time in September of 2021 at Dresden-based Semper Gallery, under the exhibition title “Bernini, the Pope and Death.” 
Also read:
Modern Indian Art auction by Astaguru showcases never seen before pieces
Art treasures that were returned to India by National Gallery of Australia

Ruhi Gilder


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