Artwork can sell for millions of dollars, so it’s always a newsworthy event when someone discovers a new piece by a famous artist. The vast majority of found art is found in storage units or secure vaults, but in some cases people have found incredible artwork where you’d least expect.
10. Nazi Artwork In Tiny Apartment
In 2012, police discovered a collection of over 1,300 pieces of art in a small Munich apartment. Most of the work had been feared destroyed during Nazi rule in Germany. The collection had belonged to the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had used his position on the Nazi Commission for the Exploitation of Degenerate Art to hide away and sell a huge number of paintings.
The artwork, most of which appeared to have been acquired legally, was inherited by his son, Cornelius Gurliit. Cornelius hoarded most of the work in his small apartment, only selling pieces when it was financially necessary. Following his death in May of 2014, most of the artwork passed to a museum in Switzerland.
Police only made the discovery after Cornelius was found to be in possession of €9,000 on a train. With no apparent income, tax authorities obtained a warrant to investigate his apartment. The artwork came to light during that search.
9. Painting Found Inside Couch
In 2007, a German student in Berlin bought a pullout couch at a flea market. When she unfolded the couch at home she found a small oil painting inside. The painting was a piece called “Preparation to Escape to Egypt” and has an unknown origin, though it is believed that the artist was part of the inner circle of the better known Venetian painter Carlo Saraceni. It was painted at some point between 1605 and 1620 according to the auction house appointed to sell the work.
It went on to be purchased in Hamburg by an anonymous bidder for a price of $27,630, making the student 100 times what she originally paid for the couch.
8. Tamayo Piece In Pile Of Trash
A New York resident came across a painting lying in the trash while walking through Manhattan in 2003. Elizabeth Gibson knew nothing about modern art but decided to take the piece home with her. After spending four years trying to find out information about the painting she finally saw a website that listed it as having appeared on Antiques Roadshow.
The painting was by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, who died in 1991. The piece “Tres Personajes” was painted in 1970 and had previously belonged to an anonymous Houston collector. It was stolen while the collector and his wife were moving and had been lost ever since. Upon learning this, Elizabeth turned it in and it went on to sell for over one million dollars. She received a percentage of the seller fee as well as a $15,000 reward for finding it.
7. Golden Buddha Found Inside Statue
A statue of Buddha dating from the 13th or 14th century was moved around various temples for a number of years before eventually settling at Wat Traimit in Thailand. This temple was not large enough to hold the sculpture so the people in charge chose to leave it outside, where it was protected only by a tin roof.
In 1954, the decision was made to house the statue in a newly constructed part of the temple. While moving the statue a rope accidentally snapped and the statue crashed to the floor. Workers discovered that plaster had been chipped off and solid gold could be seen beneath the surface. After carefully removing the rest of the plaster, they found that the statue was in fact made of gold.
At some point in the past, the statue had been covered in plaster and painted over. Scholars theorized it was to deter it from being stolen by hiding its value. Over time, people forgot about the gold sculpture underneath the plaster, believing it to be just another ordinary statue.
6. Jackson Pollock Painting From Thrift Store
During the 1990s, retired truck driver Teri Horton entered a thrift store and saw a strange painting. After negotiating the price down from $7 to $5, she took it home intending to give it to a friend as a gift. However, an art teacher happened to notice the painting and its unique style, and believed that it could have been the work of Jackson Pollock.
Horton then went on a quest to have the painting authenticated, enlisting the help of forensic experts when auction houses would do nothing to verify it. Matching a partial fingerprint on the painting with some of Pollock’s on his art equipment seemed to prove that it was genuine. Although there is still intense debate over whether it’s authentic, she has since had numerous offers for the painting and it’s currently valued at $50 million by a Toronto gallery.
5. Movie Poster Found Behind Artwork
Laura Stouffer, an art dealer and collector, was looking through the items in a thrift shop when she noticed a print of “Shepard’s Call.” The painting shows a dog who has found a lost lamb in the snow, and was originally painted at some point between 1850 and 1880. She immediately recognized the print and bought it for a relatively low price.
Intending to clean the incredibly dusty picture, she took the backing off to discover that between the frame and the print was a poster — an original window card from the 1930 classic film All Quiet on the Western Front, which theaters would have used to advertise showings. Very little memorabilia remains from the film, making the poster more valuable than the print she initially bought.
4. Abandoned Apartment Contains Rare Painting
An apartment that had been abandoned for 70 years was discovered to hold a painting by the artist Giovanni Boldini that eventually sold for $2.5 million. The original owner of the apartment had fled Paris before World War II began, but kept up payments on it despite never returning to it from her new home in the south of France. When she died in 2010, experts had to enter the home to catalog all the items and belongings.
While the apartment had a number of expensive items scattered around beneath layers of dust, the painting was what immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. Although they suspected it may have been by Boldini they could find no mention of the painting in any records. However, upon searching the home further they found a note signed by Boldini himself that confirmed the painting was genuine.
3. Venus de Milo Buried Underground
This famous statue was accidentally found when a man from the Greek village of Tripiti came across it. Yorgos Kentrotas found the Venus de Milo buried underneath a field he was working in. With the help of a local farmer, Yorgos was able to dig up the entire sculpture and a number of other statues in a few hours.
A French naval officer who was on the island immediately arranged for the statue to be purchased by the French ambassador. It was later presented to King Louis XVIII as a gift, who then donated the statue to the Louvre.
2. Ancient Statue Used As Bike Rack
Two Egyptologists discovered a 2,700-year-old statue of the Pharaoh Taharqa in the basement of a British museum. The statue, a piece of Kushite art, shows the Egyptian king portrayed as a god marching forward in victory.
The artwork had been left in the basement of Southampton’s God’s House Tower archaeological museum for over a hundred years. The staff, unaware that the statue was of any value, had been using it as a bike rack. Its importance only became known by chance, when the two Egyptian experts were visiting the museum and noticed it.
No one has any idea how anyone could leave such a historic work of art in a basement for so long. However, the statue has since been moved to its own gallery, meaning staff at the museum will have to find something else to rack their bikes on.
1. Ancient Disc Underneath a City
On February 25, 1978, a number of electrical workers were digging up roads in order to begin laying new wiring. After digging for two meters, they eventually hit a large chunk of stone. Careful excavation revealed a giant stone disk that weighed around 20 tons. The disk had a detailed carving that depicted the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui.
This discovery lead to a search of the whole area for other lost work. After demolishing blocks of apartments, archaeologists began working on digging up the surrounding land and found that it was the site of an ancient Aztec temple that had been destroyed by Spanish colonial forces.
The project went on to unearth the remains of the pyramid temple along with a number of skeletal remains and smaller statues and carvings. Most of the findings are now available in the Templo Mayor Museum just 200 yards from where the original disk was found.