Lost & Found—Interesting Stories of Missing and Recovered Works of Art

Scandalous stories have been passed around through the years of works of art which have been recovered after wars or found hidden away in modest homes in the estate process.  These discoveries bring to light the truth—a masterpiece may be lurking in someone’s attic or storage unit, and confiscated works of art may turn up anywhere. Here are some of the most interesting and unbelievable finds in the world of recovered art:

Apollo and Venus-Des Moines, Iowa

Sometimes looking for one treasure leads to the discovery of another. A theater director searching for Civil War memorabilia stumbled upon an old painting in a storeroom. Although showing the signs of age and improper storage, this Otto van Steen painting still had a Metropolitan Museum tag on it, indicating that it had once been exhibited there.

It is speculated that the painting, created around 1600, was brought to Des Moines by the owner after having loaned it to the Met, and then ended up in possession of a local women’s club for their newly established art gallery, evidenced by an account in 1941.

Once it was restored, the beauty and detail shone through. However, the theater has no intention of selling this work, valued in the millions, but to display it in their art gallery, built in 1907 by the Des Moines Women Club and one of the most notable art galleries in Des Moines.

Untitled Gouache by Jackson Pollack-Sun City, Arizona

When hired to auction off estate assets stored in an Arizona garage, a Scottsdale auctioneer & appraiser came across an unsigned mixed media artwork which looked conspicuously like a work by famed artist Jackson Pollack. Learning that the decedent was, in fact, related to a NYC art collector, the mystery became even more exciting.

After spending thousands in research and hiring multiple experts in art and specifically Pollack works, attempting to authenticate the painting as one of Jackson Pollack’s known missing gouaches, but has been unable to prove it without a doubt. Still, he moved forward in June 2017 to auction the painting, even though he has not invested in restoring the work, damaged by smoke, humidity, and years of improper storage. When lackluster interest and unqualifiable bidders threatened to impair the auction, it was cancelled. The work remains in the possession of Levine, owner of the Scottsdale auction house.

Qing Dynasty Chinese Vase-France

A rare Chinese vase, disliked by a family for several generations, was discovered in a shoebox by members searching through the attic of the family home in France. The porcelain piece, reportedly disliked by the family, had been packed away for many years and delivered to Sotheby’s for appraisal and sale in that same shoebox.

When the gavel fell at the Paris sale this past June, the piece brought a record $19.1M, the highest price ever paid for a piece of Chinese artwork ever sold by Sotheby’s in Paris and more than 30 times the pre-sale estimate. In yet another unique twist, a young Chinese art collector emerged the winner in person.

Van Goghs Stolen, Recovered 14 years Later

In a tale of stolen art and drug trafficking, 2 Van Gogh paintings were stolen from an Amsterdam museum back in 2002, as burglars broke in early one morning. An Italian crime ring was suspected and after years of investigation, the pieces were found in a house outside of Naples. It was an impressive discovery, as art often remains missing after so many years.

The discovery was made after a long investigation into the Italian mob, and the works were discovered in the hallway of a home, covered only by a cloth. They were returned to the museum with only minor damage, and after some restoration, were put back on display at the Van Gogh Museum.

The Gurlitt Collection-Munich, Germany

In what is known as the greatest theft of art in history, over 650,000 works of art were stolen by the Nazis during WWII from Jewish art collectors all around Europe and have been recovered over the years by various agencies. This latest account is especially unique, with an aging recluse, Cornelius Gurlitt, at the center. However, this was not an isolated event, as his bold move happened in all corners within Third Reich control, and several movies re-told and embellished the stories of those who attempted to remove works before they were destroyed. Those that were not lost were scattered across Europe.

The recovery of such works is even more astounding, and the extensive collection discovered in Munich is worthy of the most enthralling mystery novel…except it is all fact. To summarize, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer and expert, was retained by the Nazis to obtain fine art at any cost, throughout WWII. The works fell into the hands of his son, Cornelius, who had maintained them for over 70 years. When the extent of the collection came to light, works valued at over $1.35 billion had been discovered in his apartment and seized. To-date, they remain in the possession of German federal authorities. It could take many years (or never) to be sorted out.

At Sybaris, we are dedicated to help you find art which you connect with, which inspire you, and which are suit your collection and investment. Membership in our ARTclub offers discriminating art enthusiasts with opportunities to connect with other art lovers and professionals and access to exclusive events and pieces. Browse our Christmas catalogue and our website for distinctive pieces.