A painting offered in an estate sale by John Nye in New Jersey was appraised for $500 to $800. It had been stored for five years before the family finally got around to selling items from their mother’s estate in 2015. It created an amazing sale when it sold for over $1million.The story was part of our January 6, 2016, Kovels Komments. And it was the story told last week on the TV show “Strange Inheritances” with some added details. The painting was left by a mother to her three sons in 2010. It had been left to her by her parents and she hung it in her dining room. The boys had always thought the picture of two men trying to revive a fainting woman was “creepy.” But it was actually a Rembrandt painting from the 1600s, part of a series of paintings of the Five Senses. This one was “The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell).” The other four are in museums. The boys didn’t even go to the sale since there were so few of their item being sold. The auction went as expected until bidding for the picture went from $250 up to $800. Then came a surprising $5,000 from a bidder in France, and then a higher bid from Germany. The bidding war went from $80,000 to $450,000, then finally ended at $1.1 million (including buyer’s premium). The boys didn’t get the news for a few days because it was a Jewish holiday and they didn’t answer the phone. Too bad the boys missed the excitement of the sale! And think of the interest on the money that they didn’t get because they waited so long settle the estate. We wonder how the European dealers knew there was such a valuable painting at a local auction house. That is why online sales are so popular now.
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When you train your eye to see quality, it isn’t hard to find. The person bidding on this painting couldn’t help knowing that it was real. Durant, paraphrasing Aristotle, said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
Who discovered it was a Rembrandt? If the first high bid came from France without viewing it in person how did they know it wasn’t a copy or a deliberate fake? Why doesn’t anything like this ever happen to me?