It’s easy and there’s no cryptocurrencies involved: just buy a priceless work of art from someone who doesn’t know its value.
If you have a discerning eye, like the anonymous antique collector from Massachusetts in the US, you might be in luck.
A man was at an estate sale in 2016, where items from a family’s goods were on sale to the public. He picked up a drawing of a Madonna and Child, marked AD at the bottom, for $30.
According to the Times, he marked an entry in his ledger as “#8907 Albert Durer Madonna and Child drawing (?) $30.00.”
The anonymous buyer brought the unframed drawing home, uncertain – just as the sellers were – that it was a work by famed German Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer, even though it bore his initials, AD.
He tells Taylor Dafoe of Artnet that “On a lark, he bought it for $30. At the very least, it was ‘a wonderfully rendered piece of old art, which justified purchasing it’.”
The anonymous buyer and the family who sold it may have underestimated the drawing: “Agnews Gallery in London is reportedly asking for up to $50 million for it, believing that the “AD” behind the artwork is indeed German Renaissance master Albrecht Durer.”
Now, after careful study, multiple scholars say that the lovely ink sketch is an authentic Durer drawing, Nora McGreevy reports for the Smithsonian. It’s also an art historical rarity: Per the Art Newspaper, the sketch—likely a preparatory work for a circa 1506 painting—is the first “totally unknown” drawing by the artist to resurface since the 1970s.
The Art Newspaper reports that “Clifford Schorer, a key Agnews shareholder and the person who made the discovery, believes that the drawing ‘could fetch a record price’ for a work on paper by an Old Master.” The Art Newspaper adds that “The current record is held by Raphael, whose Head of a Muse (1510-11) sold for $48m at Christie’s London in 2009. But Agnews has not fixed a firm price and is currently exploring interest.”
Two experts have come to the conclusion that the drawing is an authentic Durer. Christof Metzger, head curator at the Albertina Museum in Vienna and a leading authority on the artist, Artnet reports, declared the work to be genuine. Metzger, Taylor Dafoe for Artnet writes, has even included it in his forthcoming catalogue raisonne on the Old Master.
Then there is Giulia Bartrum, a former curator of German Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, who also is of the same mind. She has organised an exhibition around it on view at Agnews now, Artnet announces.
The exhibition material introduces Durer, in a somewhat inflated yet perhaps well-deserved manner, “as the greatest German artist of his age, but also as one of the most important artists and intellectuals of the European Renaissance.”
Calling his work “innovative, his output prolific, and his legacy immortal,” the Agnews booklet says “Princes and emperors were among his patrons, and he engaged in discussions with scholars and artists from all over Europe.”
Artnet reports that “the work [is suspected to have been] created around 1503 as a preliminary study for Durer’s well-known watercolor, The Virgin with a Multitude of Animals, which was finished roughly three years later. (The painting is now in the collection of the Albertina [Museum in Vienna, Austria].)”
The seller had a hard time convincing anyone that he had a Durer on his hands, or at the very least finding out whether it was an authentic piece of art or not. He tried, unsuccessfully, to have the piece appraised by experts “for authentication or potential sale, only to be denied in each instance, according to Agnews.”
The seller finally was connected to Boston-based collector Clifford Schorer, who is also a shareholder at Agnews. Schorer and Agnews worked on having the work authenticated by getting experts’ opinions. Artnews writes that “a paper restorer, for instance, confirmed the age of the material [linen paper], and located Durer’s signature Trident and Ring watermark.”
The seller and Agnews found out further details about the artwork in the meanwhile. An architect living outside of Boston had inherited the piece “as a family heirloom, and it was likely purchased in Paris by his grandfather in 1919,” Artnews writes. The architect died in 2012.
Artnews has found out from a spokesperson for Agnews that the gallery has a “standard consignment agreement” with the owner of the drawing, and will be “compensated for the three to four years of research” required to authenticate it.