If there's anything Americans love, it's a "rags to riches" story. Don't believe me? Just look at virtually 80% of the movies released in the past 20 years. Or the immense (and highly deserved) popularity of Cardi B. Or the staggering number of people who tune into the trivia app HQ every day, in the hopes of having thousands of dollars sent to their PayPal accounts in a matter of minutes. We'd all like to believe that there is, however slight, a possibility that we too can effortlessly fall into a big pile of cash. The element of chance is what keeps a lot of us motivated.
Some of the wackiest stories of sudden affluence by chance are tales of long-lost artworks, found in the unlikeliest of places by the unlikeliest of people. Here are some of our favorites.
ART HISTORIAN WATCHES 1999 FILM STUART LITTLE, DISCOVERS LONG-LOST AVANTE-GARDE PAINTING IN BACKGROUND
In 2009, art historian Gergely Barki was watching the 1999 film Stuart Little with his daughter Lola when the unexpected happened. In the background of one of the shots, he spotted what he suspected to be a long-lost 1927-28 painting by Hungarian artist Róbert Berény, titled Sleeping Lady with Black Vase. Barki, who worked at Hungary’s national gallery in Budapest, had reportedly only ever seen a black-and-white photo of the Berény painting from an exhibition in 1928, but he was sure that the film's prop was the real deal. After nearly dropping his daughter from his lap, he contacted Sony and Columbia Pictures and managed to get in contact with the film's set designer, who told him that she had bought the painting in an antique shop in Pasadena, California. The Guardian reported, that the designer thought that "its avant garde elegance was perfect for Stuart Little's living room." After receiving the news, actor Hugh Laurie showed off his comedic wit with a tweet saying, "little hurt to discover the foreground performances couldn't hold the attention, but still, what an honor..." The set designer later sold the painting to a private collector, and the painting was sold at an auction at the Budapest Congress Centre for $285,700.
WOMAN SHOPPING AT GOODWILL FINDS ILYA BOLOTOWSKY PAINTING
In 2012, a woman named Beth Feeback was shopping at a North Carolina Goodwill. Initially looking for a blanket, Feebeck came across a striking painting. Feebeck was an artist herself who made cat drawings, so she purchased the painting for $10, with the intention of recycling the canvas, (i.e. to paint cats all over it). Apparently the painting had been brought in that same day, by a couple who failed to sell the painting at a church yard sale. It turns out that painting was actually a genuine work titled Vertical Diamond by Russian artist Ilya Bolotowsky, a founding member of the American Abstract Artists. According to ABC News, Feebeck had seen the artist's name on the back of the painting and decided to google him. Upon finding his Wikipedia page, Feebeck reportedly said, "Holy crap. I better get those up off the floor over there." She then sold the work at Sotheby's for $34,375. To demonstrate her gratitude to the couple who brought the painting to the Goodwill in the first place, Feebeck offered to paint a portrait of their deceased pet cat, Buttons.
RARE ALEXANDER CALDER NECKLACE FOUND AT A PHILADELPHIA FLEA MARKET FOR $15
In 2005, a woman named Norma Ifill was shopping at a flea market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when she came across a beautiful necklace. She loved the design and bought it for just $15. Two years later, Ifill went to an Alexander Calder exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum, where she noticed distinct similarities between the artist's work and the necklace that got her compliments every time she wore it. She took the necklace to the Calder Foundation in New York to verify whether the piece she'd found was made by the artist, and it was confirmed to be a genuine Calder. She learned that the necklace had actually been displayed at the MoMA in New York City in 1943. The piece was auctioned at Christie's for $267,750.
MAN FINDS ORIGINAL PICASSO PRINT AT A THRIFT STORE IN COLUMBUS, OHIO
An Ohio man named Zachary Bodish was shopping at a thrift store in Columbus, Ohio when he came across a framed poster for a 1958 ceramic sculpture exhibition by Pablo Picasso. He bought the poster for $14, only to find out later that the poster was actually signed by the artist himself. According to Business Insider, Bodish was buying and reselling thrifted furniture to supplement his income, but the gains from flipping a few chairs were nothing compared to the return he received on the signed print. He sold the work privately for $7,000.
RETIRED TRUCK DRIVER FINDS $5 PAINTING AT A THRIFT STORE; LEARNS THAT IT MIGHT BE A GENUINE JACKSON POLLOCK
In 1992, a 73-year-old retired truck driver named Teri Horton was shopping at a thrift store in California. There she bought a brightly colored $5 painting for a friend, in an effort to cheer them up (though some accounts say that she bought the painting with the intention of throwing darts at it, which, while far less likely, does make a funnier story). The painting proved too big to fit in her friend's trailer home, so Horton put it in a garage sale. As the story goes, a local art teacher saw the work and suggested to Horton that she may have a genuine Pollock on her hands, to which Horton famously replied "Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?" This would become the title of the 2006 documentary about Horton, and her quest to authenticate and sell the painting for 50 million dollars. Collectors and historians were doubtful, and claimed that the colors were not typical of Pollock, and that it didn't possess his signature "soul." (Plus everyone and their mother has since tried their hand at action, or "splatter" painting, because it's a pretty fun activity). But Horton has remained steadfast in her determination to sell the work which she believes to be painted by the hands of Pollock for no less than $50 million, and to this day, she still hasn't sold it. Harry Moses, the director of "Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?", said in a New York Times interview, "[this is] a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education." We're knocking on wood for you, Teri!
BRITISH BUSINESSMAN BUYS $5 DRAWING AT A LAS VEGAS YARD SALE, DISCOVERS IT MIGHT BE AN EARLY WARHOL WORTH $1.8 MILLION
In 2012, a businessman from Devonshire named Andy Fields bought some Gertrude Stein drawings at a Las Vegas garage sale. As the story goes, Fields was getting the alleged Stein works framed when he noticed that one of the drawings he'd acquired, pictured above, appeared to bear the signature "Andy Warhola." Fields claimed that the drawing was an early work by the famed pop artist, drawn when he was just 10 or 11. Apparently the seller told him that she used to babysit for Warhol when he was young. However, many critics (including Warhol's brother) were skeptical, as apparently "Warhola" didn't become "Warhol" until 1949, ten years after the drawing was said to have been done. The Warhol Authentication Board never verified the drawing to be a genuine Warhol, but Fields was convinced of its authenticity, and put the work up for sale on Ebay for a hefty price of $1.8 million. The work was never sold, but it did stir up quite a media storm.