Can you imagine discovering a priceless work of art in your own home? It may sound like a fairytale, yet it has happened more than once.
Experts estimate that a rare and previously undiscovered picture of Polish-born pianist and composer Fryderyk Chopin (more widely known today as Frédéric) is worth millions of dollars. The painting, which is heavily damaged, was purchased almost 28 years ago for a few hundred zlotys (a little over $75) at an antiques market in a tiny town near Lublin, in eastern Poland. The current owner, a man named Maciej, who is only 30 years old, purchased it from his uncle. He commissioned an expert to appraise the rare find, a little oil painting of the famed romantic composer, estimated to be valued up to 650 million euros (around $780 million) by the Chopin Institute. Frédéric Chopin was a famous composer. He was a child prodigy, composing his first piano piece at the age of seven. He was widely regarded as one of the master composers. His piano music made a profound impact on subsequent generations of artists and on our civilization.
When Maciej initially learned of the canvas’s potential worth, he was so shaken up that he crashed his car into a ditch. The anonymously signed portrait is believed to be from the 1840s, not long before the renowned pianist’s death and when he was already gravely sick with tuberculosis, a potentially fatal infectious illness that attacks the lungs in particular. It was a prevalent sickness in those days, taking many lives. The little oil on canvas is one of just a handful believed to have been painted of Chopin during his lifetime. It portrays the musician in his natural, unadorned state, showing him as a frail man with poor health.
A similar fairytale was revealed in 2019. A medieval masterpiece was discovered in a French kitchen, entitled “Christ Mocked.” The painting was owned by an elderly lady from the town of Compiegne. She had kept the unique artwork in her kitchen above her hotplate that was being used to make meals, believing it to be a Greek holy symbol. The woman, who is in her 90s, had hired someone to appraise the contents of her home, since she had to move, and all of her things were on sale. The auctioneer encouraged the lady to consult specialists about the artwork. It was believed to have been painted by Florentine artist Cimabue (1240 – 1302) in 1280.
Cimabue was an Italian painter and mosaic creator, and he was among the first famous Italian artists to depart from the Italo-Byzantine style, referring to religious works made in Italy that are copies or imitations of typical Byzantine icons but are painted by artists unfamiliar with Byzantine methods. He was Giotto’s instructor. Cimabue painted the Maestà in 1280 for the church of San Francesco in Pisa. This work developed a style that later renaissance masters followed, most notably Giotto and Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Although the artist is primarily recognized as Giotto’s instructor, he was also prominent throughout the early years of the Italian Renaissance. There are just 11 of his paintings in existence. This particular panel had been missing since the 18th or early 19th century. The panel appears to be a companion to two other panels of nearly identical size: the Flagellation in the Frick collection in New York and the Virgin and Child with Two Angels in the National Gallery in London. This long-lost masterpiece from the 13th century has been auctioned by Dominique Le Coent from Acteon Auction House in Paris for over 24.2 million Euros ($26.8 million), only months after it was found. It was sold for more than four times its pre-sale estimate. According to the auction house, the picture was the last purchased by an unidentified bidder from northern France.
The 16th-century Dutch painter Otto van Veen’s masterpiece “Apollo and Venus” was unearthed in a closet in Iowa. In February 2016, Robert Warren, executive director of Hoyt Sherman Place, a historic home in Des Moines, Iowa that is currently being used as a theater and meeting space, was looking for some Civil War-era flags to commemorate President’s Day. That was when a staff member directed him to a storeroom under the second-story balcony of the theater. He found a huge painting jammed between a table and a wall while he was there. He didn’t believe it was worth anything. He was uncertain as to the story behind the painting being in that closet. It ended up being worth over $4 million. Warren decided not to sell it but to display it in the Hoyt Sherman Place Gallery.
The painting was a work by Otto van Veen (c.1556 – 1629), also known as Otto Venius or Octavius Vaenius, who worked mostly in Antwerp and Brussels during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He is most well-known for maintaining a large studio in Antwerp, publishing multiple emblem books, and serving as Peter Paul Rubens’ teacher from 1594 through 1598. Apollo and Venus are seen in the painting, together with Venus’ son Cupid. Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, Beauty, and Fertility, is shown as a landscape painter with a little picture of Pegasus on the horizon. Apollo is the Roman God of Music and Poetry. He is seen carrying a lyre. Cupid is the Roman God of Affection, Desire, and Romantic Love. Veen was an artist who created Emblem books. Humanism is a recurring element in many of his works. He was fond of painting cherubs and enacting philosophers’ love mottos, and he encouraged a large number of other artists to do the same. He had a significant influence on the young Rubens, another titan of art in our history.
So, next time you discover a mysterious old piece of artwork somewhere, don’t just throw it out. For all you know, it could be worth million.