So you’re walking along, minding your own business, when suddenly a bit of color among the garbage cans catches your eye. You pick your way through the dark green Hefty bags and pick out a bright canvas with stylized figures and splashes of red, purple and yellow. Days later, you look it up on-line and realize you have a masterpiece on your hands.
In one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” turns that seem to happen more often than we think, Mexican master Rufino Tamayo’s Tres Personajes–stolen 20 years ago–was found in precisely that same compromising position by one Elizabeth Gibson on her way to the local coffeehouse. Fortunately, the Manhattanite dusted off the surprisingly well-kept painting, took it home, and proceeded to look it up on the Internet.
According to Gibson, she learned of the work’s worth when her research led her to the website of Antiques Roadshow FYI, a companion program to the Antiques Roadshow, on which the painting had featured. The painting had been stolen from a warehouse where the owners had placed it while moving. The owners–a couple from Houston whose names have not been disclosed–bought the oil on canvas, with marble dust and sand worked into the paint, in 1977 at Sotheby’s. August Uribe, Sotheby’s senior vice-president of Impressionist and modern art, said that the husband had paid $55,000 for it as a gift for his wife. The husband later died.
They still don’t know how it ended up in the street.
The widow is putting the painting up for sale at Sotheby’s Latin American Art auction on 20 November. Gibson will receive the $15,000 reward the couple put up when it was stolen, plus an undisclosed percentage of the sale of the painting.
I’d say she also merits the Brownie Badge for Sharp Eyesight. Bravo!
PS: A Tamayo retrospective starts Friday at the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City.