Hunting for treasure in all its various forms is something humankind has pursued for centuries, from diamonds and gold to a good deal found in the bargain bin. Finding value in something others have overlooked is a unique thrill, and for some art lovers, the hunt has paid off in a big way. Here are eight paintings found in unusual places that turned out to be worth more than anticipated.
Wendy Hawkins, a volunteer at the Hotline Pink Thrift Shop in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was struct by a print she found while sorting through donations. She took the ethereal image to a local gallery, who after closer examination and a bit of research, identified the work as a woodblock print based on watercolors Salvador Dalí created to illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy. The artist's authentic signature on the print pushed its value up to $1,200, money that went towards the thrift store's mission of helping victims of domestic violence.
An out-of-work mechanic in France kept himself busy buying and selling cheap artworks online until one day his hobby paid off. Ahmed Ziani's eleven-year-old son spotted a signature on a painting he had bought for $700: A. Renoir, 1864. The early Renoir painting was not in the artist's recognizable impressionist style, but records supported that the painting had once been displayed and had since been lost.
A bargain shopper at a West-Virginia fleamarket unwittingly righted a wrong when she bought a painting for its elaborate gold frame. Crammed in a $7 box of trinkets, the woman planned to trash the painting but first brought it to an auction house, where it was identified as Renoir's painting Paysage Bords de Seine (Banks of the River Seine) from 1879. But the buyer didn't get to cash in on her find, as the Baltimore Museum of Art laid claim to the work, which had been stolen in 1951.
For years, an elderly French woman lived with a small painting worth $26 million humbly hanging above her hotplate. She long-assumed it was a cheap reproduction, but an antiques dealer hoping to buy her furniture thought the small piece in her kitchen was worth a second look. Created in 1280, Christ Mocked is one of the few known works by Cimabue, a master of medieval painting from Florence.
In another case of a valuable find picked out because of its flashy frame, an antiques dealer in South Carolina bought this sparse still life for $3, hoping to resell the frame, as he thought it was at least a century old. His curious daughter-in-law brought the piece to Antiques Roadshow, where it was revealed to be a Flemish painting from 1650, which would later sell for $190,000.
If you've been meaning to clean out your attic, this story might give you the push you've been needing. In 2004, a French man discovered a lost Caravaggio masterpiece in a forgotten corner of his attic. One of two canvasses by the Baroque master showing Judith beheading Holofernes, this version, painted circa 1607, had been missing for centuries. Researchers spent years studying and authenticating the work, which was in remarkably good condition considering its years in storage and valued the find at $171 million.
A $30 still life bought at an Indiana thrift store covered up an unsightly hole in the wall for years, until one day the owner spotted a similar painting in an auction board game called Masterpiece. After some online research, the owner identified the likely artist as Martin Johnson Heade, an American artist who painted landscapes and still lives of tropical flowers. The magnolia blossoms painted on velvet went on to sell for $1.2 million.
At a Habitat Humanity ReStore in Queens, one shopper with a keen eye spotted the unmistakable hand of Egon Schiele among a stack of framed artwork. Picking up the nude sketch in crayon for a song, the drawing turned out to be worth $100,000-$200,000. The work was quickly authenticated by the nearby Galerie St. Etienne, experts on the Austrian artist.