Lost Art: In Search of the Undiscovered

We are always on the hunt for artwork that speaks to us–even if the artist can’t because he or she is dead and never signed their work, or signed it so illegibly that they are de facto, anonymous.

But does that make the work worthless? Does art have to have a pedigree?

That’s really up to you. Throughout the ages there have been numerous artists that didn’t sign some of their work for a variety of reasons. Some may have regarded a piece as “unfinished,” or simply had no intention of ever exhibiting it.

While the price for major name artists continues to soar, we love finding works that are compelling even if they aren’t signed Warhol or Hirst.

“Who the *%$# is Jackson Pollock?!”

“What strip mining is to nature, the art market has become to culture,” wrote art critic Robert Hughes, and he has a point.

The art market has become more like the stock market, a game of names that hopefully will deliver both cachet and dividends to those able to buy a so-called masterpiece.

Then there are those who stumbled on an undocumented masterpiece without even knowing it. In 2019, a New York man discovered what appeared to be a drawing by Egon Schiele in a Habitat for Humanity thrift shop. Its value today? Estimated at $100Million.

That same year on the other side of the country, a woman found an oil painting full of drips and splashes of paint at a San Bernardino thrift store. It was meant to be a gift but it backfired because her friend couldn’t fit it into her mobile home. When she tried to sell it at a garage sale, an art instructor told her it could be a Jackson Pollock.

“Who the *%$# is Jackson Pollock,” the woman replied. After a complicated documentation process, it indeed was a Pollock and she learned it was worth $50Million.

At top, a painting by the secretly prolific artist Eric Tucker. Below, a drawing by Egon Schiele which was discovered in a New York thrift shop.

Then again, there are those freak incidences where a masterpiece is forgotten somewhere in the back of someone’s kitchen.

An early renaissance painting found in la cuisine of a house in France was recently identified to be a work of an artist named Cimabue, however, he did not sign the work. Its estimated value?  $39 Million.

Found in the back of a French woman’s kitchen, The Mocking of Christ by Cimabue was painted in 1280.

Consider artist British artist Eric Tucker who painted over 400 works in complete obscurity–even his family had no idea what he was doing. When he died at 86, it was discovered that his house had stacks of paintings everywhere, and was of a quality that instantly brought him worldwide attention.

Like everything, art goes in and out of fashion and what was let go for $5.00 at a garage sale suddenly becomes retro-cool and worth far more, not so much for its name but its style.

At top, a typical work by Bernard Buffet, whose 1950’s style became practically a cliché of the Paris landscape genre. Below, an abstract painting for sale at Fonfrège.com.

When Midcentury Modernism began its crescendo of obsession in the mid-1990s, certain works by unknown artists began selling at higher and higher prices simply because they reflected the style of the period.

Bernard Buffet, for instance, was a wildly popular artist of the 1950s whose work was so successful that it was reproduced in a variety of formats. This in turn led to other artists copying his distinctive style of painting. Now, when one sees this style it is not only instantly recognizable as “Buffet” but as typically midcentury.

We review thousands of artworks all over the world that we feel are undervalued or overlooked. We’ve seen works sell at auction for far more than their true value simply because the subject matter or technique made them exceptional — regardless of whether the artist ever had a gallery show.  We think it’s kind of fantastic because it proves that talent can matter so much more than a name.

And sometimes that talent was but a brief moment in an artist’s life before they disappeared into oblivion.

Our aim with Gallerie 1791 is not just to offer artwork that is “fashionable” but works we think have artistic merit even if we know little or nothing about the artist.

Feature Photo: A painting by Regis de Bouvier du Cachard. Coming soon to Fonfrège.com