A few years ago, a British man was shopping a Northampton store that “sells all sorts of little bits and pieces of old tat,” as he put it to Mirror, and found himself attracted to an ornate gold frame. It bore an appealing price tag of less than £100, so he purchased it, along with the painting it enclosed — a frothy riverside scene with windswept trees, a rambling dirt path, and a cozy cottage, all beneath a bright blue sky — and promptly dumped it up in his attic and forgot about it. Last year, however, he noticed that the signature in the corner of the painted scene seemed to read “Paul Cézanne,” above the date 1854, and that this signature appeared to match the ones he found in an art history book. Now the man, who does not wish to be identified, has launched a headlong campaign to find someone, anyone, who will confirm that he’s got a masterpiece on his hands.
If this quaint landscape is in fact a correctly dated and authentic painting by Cézanne, it would be the revered Post-Impressionist’s earliest known work — an art historical treasure that Willfords on Wellington auction house owner Tim Conrad, who has inspected it, says could be worth $65 million or more. The man who owns the work claims that he became aware of its possible authorship when he was playing around with a newly purchased digital camera and thought it could be fun to shoot close-ups of the painting… and send them to an auctioneer. Before photographing his find, however, he removed it from the frame and wiped away “50 years of dirt,” according to the Daily Record (a hair-raising prospect to conservators, no doubt, if the painting is real).
“The canvas was curled up tightly at the edges so I carefully unraveled it to see the markings,” the unnamed owner told the Daily Mail. “I realized I could be looking at the first-ever Cezanne painting…. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I just bought it for the frame.”
According to Conrad, who says he believes the work is authentic, the subject matter of the painting is consistent with other early Cézannes. The auction house head acknowledges that his first instinct was to be skeptical of the piece. “When people come in and say they’ve got a Cézanne, you tend to think, ‘Of course you do,'” he told the Daily Mail. “But when I saw the brushwork on this painting, I knew it was very skillful.”
The owner, meanwhile, after getting the backing of Conrad and one other auctioneer, is increasingly assertive that his thrift store find is the real thing. “I don’t understand why it would be a fake,” he told the Northampton Chronicle. “Why would you put a Mercedes badge on a pushbike?” Yeah, right, forging a Cézanne makes no sense at all.