Did you hear news reports that a 14 – 40 million dollar Paul Gauguin still life painting featuring fruit and a small dog was found hanging in the kitchen of an Italian autoworker? Most people have salt and pepper shakers as kitchen collectibles. The painting was purchased from a railway auction selling off items abandoned on a passenger train decades ago. The stolen painting has resurfaced and is the topic of much controversy.
Here are the untold parts of this story that you won’t hear reported and the answers to questions everybody is asking me as a Ph.D. art historian and art appraiser.
1. Why the big price range for its value?
First, I have to disagree with the reported values. Based on recent sales records for works by Paul Gauguin, the work should sell for around 20-25 million dollars. Nothing to sneeze at, but not nearly the 40 million dollar amount reported. Gauguin is better known for his paintings of women and landscapes of Tahiti, not for still life paintings of fruit and dogs, thus the lower value. They are using the hype to try to increase its value. Something you should do to if you are trying to sell your art and antiques.
2. Can current owner keep the valuable find?
Probably not. Some deal will be made. Probably, the paintings will be returned to the heirs of the original owner who has now passed. The current owner, the automaker, will most likely get a “finder’s fee”, or the paintings will be put on display in a museum somewhere.
3. Should I be looking for dogs in paintings?
Sure if you like dogs, but not all Gauguin painting had dogs in them. Gauguin included dogs in some of his paintings, however he did not use the dog as many artists did as a symbol of fidelity. Dogs (fido from the latin ‘fides’ for fidelity) is a common loyalty symbol in art history. Funny, since Gauguin was far from loyal to his wife and several children when he abandoned them, running off to live and paint on the island of Tahiti.
Oh, and regarding the Pierre Bonnard painting that was also found hanging in the autoworker’s home with the Paul Gauguin. While no one is giving that painting a second look, it is worth around 0.8 million dollars. Not a bad return for making a 100 dollar purchase at an auction. How did the railway auction folks miss these two finds? Understanding how auctions work may help you understand.
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