Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lost and Found 'Treasures'

Did you ever rummage through junk shops in the hope of finding a lost 'treasure'? I think it's a deep-seated thing in human nature.

The only such discovery I've ever made was in a second-hand store - a Galle art glass vase, supported on a gilt bronze organic form. Not unlike the Degue example below, but with the bowl 'organic' in the same mode of the stand.

Art Glass by Degue

Being a student at the time and financially challenged, I sold the vase the very same day to an antique dealer friend for forty times what I'd paid for it. And it appeared the following day in his smart shop window - centre-stage and spot lit - with a three-fold marked up price tag.

Now this discovery rush can be experienced second-hand.

Like when I read about the finding by Bedouins of the roughly 1000 Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1947 and 1979. Hidden in jars in remote caves in mountains, they were copies of religious and other documents from before 100 AD.

Caves at Qumran

Dead Sea Scroll

Qumran Scroll Jar

The latest of these rushes I've had was when I heard about the discovery four years ago of the masterpiece 'Tres Personajes' (1970) by legendary Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo - in trash in a New York street.

'Tres Personajes' (1970) - Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

Doing unrelated research on the 'Antiques Roadshow FYI' website in the 'Missing Masterpieces' segment, the finder saw her oil painting and contacted its earlier owner - it had been purchased at auction in 1977 and stolen in 1987.

In November 2007, the real owner achieved $1,049,000 at Sotheby's auction sale, with the finder (Elizabeth Gibson) happily getting a substantial reward - $15,0000 plus a percentage of the action sale!

Emily Genauer, art historian and author of the most important work on the artist in English, has said of the artist:

'Tamayo’s lasting legacy to art history is the re-examination of Cubism and the explication of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history while incorporating elements of the mainstream movements of 20th century art. Tamayo is known for his vivid coloring and innovative use of texture, often incorporating sand and raw pigment into his works.'

Of course, stories like these are the genesis of untold numbers of 'great urban myths' and are a great boost to the faking industry.


  1. Back when I believed in the religion happy crappy, I was excited about the Dead Sea Scrolls find and was wondering why noone ever included them in the bible and various religious leaders of this country and others claimed that the scrolls were heresy.

    Even though my eyes have been "opened", I still can't help but wish I could actually read the dead sea scrolls for myself....

  2. hey greg, yeah you are right - they are interesting whether you are religious of otherwise - just a good read being part of one aspect of our cultural base.

  3. Speaking of treasures, someday I must go on the Antiques Roadshow and find out what my official Queen Elizabeth II coronation ashtray is worth! : )

  4. hey keith - yep, you might be able to retire and go to france and live on the the cote d'azure! tell us all how it goes! take care.