A Massachusetts man walked away with a simple fake jade necklace and a small drawing when he visited an estate sale in Concord one day in 2016, spending a total of $31.
Little did he know that the drawing was an extremely rare work on paper by German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, potentially worth tens of millions.
The man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, was struck by the drawing when he encountered it at the sale but was far from suspecting that he had found an undiscovered masterpiece.
The man kept the drawing in his home, bringing it up on occasion to show to friends and visitors. It was not until he showed the drawing to his friend Brainerd Phillipson, the owner of a rare antique book shop in Holliston, Massachusetts, however, that he believed that he’d stumbled upon something remarkable.
Phillipson and the man noticed that the drawing had the initials A.D. at the bottom, which they considered a sign that it could be an original Dürer work on paper. In 2019, Clifford Schorer, an art dealer from Boston passed through Phillipson’s shop in search of a gift.
Phillipson brought up the piece to Schorer, who was immediately skeptical. Phillipson was confident that if the piece was even an authentic work of Dürer’s, it was likely an engraving, a much less rare type of work made through a stamp, thus rendering multiple copies and editions.
Schorer was also aware that Dürer’s drawings are particularly uncommon, with most experts believing that all of his drawings have been found. “As someone who knows Albrecht Dürer in and out, it’s impossible,” Schorer told Phillipson.
Man teams up with art dealer to sell lost Dürer masterpiece
A little over a week later, the man who had bought the drawing sent Schorer a few images. Schorer drove to the man’s house immediately and was shocked by what he saw.
“It was either a masterpiece or the greatest forgery I had ever seen,” he said.
Schorer paid the man a $100,000 advance to sell the drawing and verify its authenticity, after which both he and the anonymous man will split the sale.
Schorer dedicated the next two years to showing the work to experts across the world, traveling extensively with the drawing in tow. In December 2021, a panel of experts at the British Museum in London confirmed that the piece was “The Virgin and Child With a Flower on a Grassy Bench” by Albrecht Dürer.
Dürer, who was born in 1471, was believed to have made the drawing in 1503, a time in which experts say he made similar works of the Virgin Mary sitting on a bench. The drawing is currently on view at the Colnaghi Gallery in New York. Schorer believes that the drawing could be the most valuable work by a Renaissance master since a sketch by Rapahel was purchased for almost $50 million ten years ago.