(John Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows/Sotheby’s)
Garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, and resale shops are great place to find vintage designs, funky art, and cool items to upcycle. But every savvy bargain-hunter also dreams of finding that hidden gem worth millions.
That’s exactly what happened to one keen-eyed (and much richer) shopper in England, who picked up a painting at an estate sale for $5,000. Now, that’s a heftier price tag than your average yard sale comic book collection, but in this case, it was a real steal. The painting turned out to be John Constable’s “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” and sold for an incredible $5.2 million at a recent Sotheby’s auction.
The painting is not the first such hidden find. A $3 bowl found at a yard sale in New York state sold for $2.2 million in 2013. (Would you have recognized it as a 1,000-year-old Chinese treasure?) And in 2012, a family tried to claim $130 million in Coke stock sold at a garage sale. (It didn’t work.)
(A portrait of John Constable, age 20 by Daniel Gardner)
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Constable is one of England’s most popular and historically important Romantic painters, perhaps only secondary to J.M.W. Turner from their era. Like so many other iconic painters, Constable did not achieve fame until late in life and his popularity and noted significance grew exponentially after his death in 1837.
ArtNet reports that a consigner at a Christie’s London auction picked up the rediscovered piece in 2013. The painting was originally believed to have been a knock off of sorts, created by a follower of Constable, rather than by the master himself.
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The purchaser then put in the legwork to have the painting authenticated as a Constable work. As it turns out, it was not only an authentic Constable painting, but also what Sotheby’s calls, “one of John Constable’s most celebrated masterpieces.” It was produced in 1831, just six years before Constable’s passing.
The investigative work literally paid off, with the painting selling for more than $2 million above its original $3 million high-end estimate.
Sotheby’s says it remains something of a mystery how the painting disappeared from the public eye over the years but notes that an anonymous person or persons attempted to “finish” the painting with their own additions. Thankfully, a successful restoration process returned the painting to its original state.
(John Constable’s The Opening of Waterloo Bridge)
So, the next time something catches your eye in that church basement sale, remember there are real treasures out there. But make sure you actually like your find, just in case it’s not worth millions and it ends up hanging over your sofa until you hold a yard sale of your own.
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