$50 Million Durer Drawing Bought for $30 at Estate Sale

- by Michael Stillman


Durer's Virgin and Child (Agnews Gallery image).

Have you ever dreamed of finding something cheap at a yard sale, only to learn later that it is fabulously valuable? Everyone has. That dream came true for an unidentified man in his 60s. He found the work at an estate sale in Massachusetts. However, this time it appears to be on a level far beyond what anyone can dream. He purchased a drawing for $30 which, if authentic as believed, is estimated to be worth $50 million.


The drawing looks to be the work of late 15th and early 16th century printmaker and artist Albrecht Durer. Durer's name is well known in the art world, but even more so in that of books and prints. There were numerous great artists of the Renaissance period, but only one woodblock artist and engraver like Durer. He not only illustrated books for others, but bound his prints together to create books, which became a major source of his income. Late in life, Durer turned to writing, publishing books on perspective. His separate prints, books and illustrated works are all valuable today, but naturally, his original art is the most valuable of all.


The title of the drawing is The Virgin and the Christ Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bench. That wouldn't have helped the buyer much as it was previously unknown. He couldn't identify the artist but there was one thing about which he was fairly certain – it was a reproduction. It was too nice a drawing to be found at an estate sale for $30. It did have the initials “A D” at the bottom, but if he thought it might be Abrecht Durer, it would have been as a reproduction. He didn't treat it like $50 million in cash.


Neither did the unlucky previous owners, the daughters of architect Jean Paul Carlhian. They did not realize what they had. Jean Paul Carlhian, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, obviously had no idea either. It had come to Jean Paul through Maison Carhlian, a Paris firm that made fine furniture from 1867-1975. They obtained the drawing in 1919, a year before Jean Paul was born. It is uncertain whether they knew what they had, but it seems likely. It wouldn't have been so spectacularly valuable back then.


The current owner bought it in 2016, and in looking for a buyer, he was offered $2,000 by a dealer. The dealer was more interested in the fine frame than the drawing. He later told a bookseller about it, who in turn mentioned it to Clifford Schorer who visited his shop in Massachusetts. Schorer was blown away. It was too good. Could it possibly be? He set about showing the image to various experts who concluded it was real. The signature matched up, the paper matched up to a type Durer had used. Everything matched. It is now held at Agnews Gallery in London, and while they have not yet put a selling price on it, they will be contacting potential buyers.


The drawing has been dated to 1503. It is believed to be a preliminary sketch for his painting The Virgin Among a Multitude of Animals. It is not very large, 6 ½ x 6 ½ inches. This might be the most valuable art work on a per square inch basis ever.