So, could that painting or drawing you found in your attic be a Leonardo? His work is fairly well documented, so a year ago, I would have said no way…..but now? Who knows?
Scientific tools previously used for crime solving are now being applied to art. According to an AP press release, an unsigned chalk, ink and pencil drawing of a young woman has just been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci by identifying a fingerprint and palm print on the paper, and subsequent attribution to him. (The white box on the portrait is the area of the fingerprint. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.) According to Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal forensic art expert, the print of an index finger matched a fingerprint found on Leonardo’s “St. Jerome” in the Vatican. And of course, the style and stylistic nature were appropriate to da Vinci’s work, and carbon dating evidence also indicates it to be an earlier work than 19th century. But the finger print is the proverbial icing on the cake which upon which Biro based his attribution. It seems that Leonardo used his hands frequently, and his fingerprints are found on many of his works. It appears that this is the first major work by Leonardo to have been identified in 100 years.
The work, known as La Bella Principessa” was previously thought to have been created by a 19th century German artist, and it sold two years ago for about $19,000. Now that experts believe the drawing is Leonardo’s, the value has soared. One London art dealer is now valuing the drawing at $150 million!
So, do you have a Leonardo work of art in your attic? Remember, this drawing is a previously documented and named work of art. Having an undocumented work of art be attributed to Leonardo da Vinci is highly unlikely. But, this discovery does remind us that there are hidden treasures out there, they just need to be identified.
If you believe you have a work of art or a decorative arts item that “could” be special, your first step would be to have it inspected by an appraiser who is familiar with the type of item that you have. The retention of a credentialed and certified appraiser is your first step. A qualified appraiser can provide you with basic information about what you have, and what you don’t have. Obviously they can’t attribute a Leonardo with just an inspection, but they can provide you with basic information that you can make further decisions.
An appraiser can often help you understand what you don’t have, and save you from unnecessary expense for further research. For example, I received a call earlier this year from a client who had a Rembrandt painting that she wanted me to value. I questioned her before we made an appointment, and she was certain she had “something valuable and original”. I thought she possibly had a Rembrandt etching, but she was certain it was an oil painting. Unfortunately, she did not have an etching; it was a mid-20th century reproduction print which had little value. So, since she had booked my time, we spent the next hour discussing how to tell the difference between an original painting and lithographic prints. Now, as she hunts and searches through yard sales and auctions, she is better equipped to find a valuable treasure. And she learned that her Rembrandt was a print, before she shipped it to one of the major auction houses at considerable expense.
Other times, an appraiser will deliver good news on that special item. Another client of mine had a silver bowl she no longer wanted, and retained me to help her sell it. The bowl she no longer wanted just happened to be a 1930’s Georg Jensen covered vegetable bowl; quite a find! So, will you find a valuable work of art? Who knows, but everything is possible. There's treasures out there, just waiting to be found and identified. Good hunting!
Vicky Nash Shaw, ISA CAPP
Certified Antique and Art Appraiser in Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill
Article Sources: Associated Press and Antique Trader