Hidden Treasures: Lost Artistic Masterpieces
Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! This week, I am going to highlight some of my favorite stories of “hidden treasures”. I love stories of people finding works in art in their homes that end up being lost works of masters worth millions of dollars! Sadly, I don’t think anything like that is lurking in my house, but it’s fun to dream! Here are five examples of once in a lifetime finds!
Cimabue in the Kitchen (with a Candlestick?)
A few years ago, an elderly woman in France discovered that the “Greek Icon” painting that had hung in her kitchen was actually an extremely rare Cimabue painting. Analysis shows that it was once a part of a triptych painted around 1280. It is a scene of Christ being mocked as a part of the Passion events. There are only 11 other known works by this artist, making this almost a one in a million find! Cimabue was also the master of Giotto, making him even more important in the history of art. In 2019, this work sold for a recording breaking $26.6 million.
Sunset at Montmajour - Attic Treasure
In 1908, Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad purchased this work by Vincent van Gogh. It features a beautiful landscape at sunset, with ruins of the abbey in the background and was painted while the artist was living in Arles. Mustad hung the work in his home, until a guest mocked him and said that it had to be a fake. Angered, Mustad put the work in the attic and it was soon forgotten about.
In 2009, his descendants rediscovered the work and submitted it for study at the Van Gogh museum. It took four years, countless scientific tests, and even scouring van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, but in 2013 it was authenticated as a work by Vincent van Gogh. (If you want to learn more about this amazing artist, click here for the Accessible Art History Artist Spotlight video on him!)
In his career, Caravaggio painted a few different versions of the story of Judith Beheading Holofernes. (This one hangs in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini in Rome) Another version was discovered in a house in Toulouse, France in 2014. A man clearing out a loft brought it to Baroque expert Eric Turquin, who after careful study, declared it was a newly discovered work by Caravaggio. This was a bit of a controversial identification, as this artist had many followers who painted in his style.
The French government banned its export from the country until it could be sold. This work was supposed to go to the auction block, but an anonymous buyer (with a close connection to a museum) offered a remarkable $170 million for it. The owners couldn’t resist and accepted.
A Rembrandt Hidden in Plain Sight
This work, for most of its life, was often considered to be a 19th century Victorian copy of the great master Rembrandt. It wasn’t unusual for these to be used as decorations in homes. This work also wasn’t in the best shape either, making identification even harder. It was discovered by an antiques dealer who was called in by a New Jersey couple to assess things in their house.
After analysis, experts declared that this was one of the lost works of Rembrandt’s Five Senses series. It was painted when he was a teen, around 1624-25. After restoration, it was sold for between $3-$4 million!
Antiques Roadshow Find of the Century
On the Antiques Roadshow, everyday people bring their collectibles to experts and hope that they hit the jackpot. For one family in Corpus Christi, Texas, that is exactly what happened. This work by famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera is called El Albañil and was painted around 1904 when the artist was around 18 years old. It has been hanging in the owner’s home, behind a door, for years when they decided to bring it on the show.
Experts were stunned as this piece was considered to be a lost work of Rivera’s. The owner stated it has been in his family for 80 years and they had purchased it in Mexico. The expert, who’s excitement was quite obvious, gave it a value of up to $1 million! That was in 2012. A few years later, the painting had increased in value, up to $2.2 million! (The clip is quite fun to watch, I’ve linked it here.)
I’ve always thought it would be amazing to find some long lost work and help to add to art historical knowledge. What could be lurking in your home?