Zachary Bodish, 46, of Columbus, Ohio, bought what he thought was a poster reproduction advertising an exhibit of Pablo Picasso for $14.14 in a thrift store and sold it for $7,000 to a private buyer.
Bodish, 46, said he went to a Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, Ohio on March 1. He was looking for mid-century furniture housewards or "kitschy art" to re-sell. Bodish, who lost his job as a house manager at the Wexner Center for the Arts about two years ago, uses the hobby to supplement his income. He has a part-time job as he looks for more permanent work in the arts.
"I would have liked to have kept it but I'm somewhat underemployed at the moment," Bodish said. "I really needed the money. If it hadn't been worth very much, only $2,000, I probably would have kept it."
Bodish said a few buyers had made an offer and he had even met with a representative at Christie's auction house in New York City. That representative estimated verbally that Christie's could list the piece in its catalog for $2,500 to $3,000 and it could sell for $4,000, Bodish said.
No one he spoke to gave him an offer as high as the final bidder, who contacted Bodish through the phone book.
"This particular buyer. We just got along well," Bodish said.
Because the piece was never officially appraised on paper, the buyer took a leap of faith that it was authentic.
"He felt fairly confident," Bodish said of the buyer, who has given Bodish "visitation rights."
"I think all parties were pretty darn happy about it," Bodish said of the transaction.
The owner who donated the piece to the thrift store said a friend gave the print to him as a gift in the 1960s. Ed Zettler, a retired teacher from Columbus, acknowledges he gave up his rights to the print when he donated it.
"I'm glad that the guy that got it recognized something about it," Zettler told the Columbus Dispatch after the newspaper first reported about the thrifty discovery. "I am pleased for him."
Though Bodish never had the print appraised, Picasso experts said the work is most likely a linocut for which Picasso carved a design into linoleum that was then pressed onto paper with ink by a printer.
Todd Weyman, vice president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York City, had estimated that, if authentic, the print's fair market value at auction could be $4,000 to $6,000, based on sales of comparable works during the past 10 to 15 years.
On April 25, Swann Auction Galleries sold a Picasso linocut with three colors for $7,500 which was estimated to bring in about $10,000 to $15,000.
Weyman said an auction for a similar linocut through Christie's in London sold for $4,700 in March 2007. Another was sold in March 2006 through Sotheby's of London for $4,600.
Picasso created the "poster" from the thrift store for an annual pottery show for the city of Vallauris, France in 1958, according to Lisa Florman, an art professor at The Ohio State University. Picasso may have made prints for the annual exhibition every year from 1954 for several years.
In addition to the 100 numbered "original" linocuts, which were signed by the artist, it is possible some photolithographic reproductions were made, Florman said.
Possible signature of Pablo Picasso on back of print (Courtesy Zachary Bodish)
"These would have been what were plastered on walls throughout Vallauris and many neighboring towns in France," she said.
By that time, Picasso was one of the most famous artists in the world and a "real celebrity in France certainly," Florman said.
Bodish estimates that the printed area of the work measures 17 1/2 by 11 3/4 inches. Kobi Ledor who owns California-based Ledor Fine Art with his wife, Casey, who deal exclusively in works by Picasso, said the length and width should each be 1/4 inch longer to be an authentic piece.
"Though there is typically some variability in size," Ledor said, a 1/4-inch variance is at the "upper range of acceptability."
Ledor, who only viewed a digital photo of the print, said he has "doubts" about the authenticity of the signature, though the color may have been distorted photographically.
First, Ledor said that it was "odd" that the signature appears to have faded unevenly.
"They generally fade homogeneously, and I have seen no exceptions to that rule," he said.
Second, the color of the red pencil that Picasso typically used to sign his prints was "a red bordering on orange, which fades to orange, then yellow or pale yellowish/brown, then disappears."
"There are many authentic, original Picasso prints with forged signatures, so a forged signature on this find would not necessarily damn the artwork," he said. "A forger could have easily used the wrong type of pencil."
Last, Ledor said it is "unusual" that the "P" in Picasso's name dips below the underlining, "but there are a number of known exceptions to that."
Florman said in 1954, when he was 72, Picasso discovered the linocut technique and advertisements for the Vallauris ceramics exhibitions were among the very first sorts of linocuts he made.
"Most of his early ones used only a single color and were quite simple in design," she said. "In that sense, they are remarkably similar to his ceramic work, for which he also typically used only one or two colors at a time and kept things simple. The image on the 1958 Vallauris linocut is, I think, meant to depict a plate of the sort that Picasso often made -- the "pattern" being simply a human face."