Pieces of art thought to be lost or stolen, renovations that help discover art or using technology to find out more about an architectural monument and the artist behind a painting. These are some of the most surprising discoveries made in recent years.
Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing new under the sun with art, and that we know everything about classical art. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Thanks to new technologies, renovations, and sometimes just luck, we find out more about the art world every year. Here are some of the most surprising discoveries made in recent years.
In 2021, Sotheby’s wanted to auction what is called the Honresfield Library, which is a collection that includes more than 500 manuscripts, first editions, and letters by Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Jane Austen, Walter Scott, and Robert Burns, most of them thought to be lost to time. It was originally assembled by William Law at the end of the 19th century.
The sale was postponed so that the charity Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) was able to raise funds and be able to buy the collection for £15.3m. Now the items are planned to be donated to institutions around the UK.
Sunset at Montmajour by Van Gogh
New homeowners found a painting in their attic and suspected that it could be a Van Gogh, so they brought it to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 1991. Initially, it was thought to be inauthentic, mainly because it lacked a signature, but a few years later (and with the use of new technologies) the decision was changed.
In 2013, Van Gogh historians announced that Sunset at Montmajour had indeed been painted by him. They noted that the painting was completed in Arles, France and that it was originally part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890, with a “180” painting on its back with the number in his collection inventory. It was also described in detail in an 1888 letter from Vincent to Theo.
Sunset at Montmajour has been displayed at the Van Gogh Museum since 2013, and it’s the first full-sized painting by the artist to be newly authenticated since 1928. Nevertheless, different discoveries have been made of his paintings, like a grasshopper in Olive Trees.
Lard was used for the construction of Stonehenge
In early 2019, a team of archeologists claimed to have found the exact quarries where the rocks used in Stonehenge’s inner circle came from. But they also found antique jars with traces of lard found nearby that suggest animal fat was being used for construction purposes.
In this case, animal fat is theorized to have been used as a lubricant to reduce friction and make it easier to transport the site’s heavy stones with a sled system.
A stolen Klimt found 23 years later
During renovations of the Ricci Oddi art gallery for a new exhibition in 1997, Portrait of a Lady by Gustav Klimt was stolen, with the frame found discarded on the roof next to a skylight.
In 2019, 23 years after the theft, a gardener in the art gallery opened a metal panel on the back of the museum building, obscured by ivy vines, with the stolen painting hidden inside. Tests were carried out to confirm how long the painting had been on the wall, to later go back on display at the gallery.
A 17th-century painting found inside an Oscar de la Renta boutique
Construction workers in Paris were doing renovations for the opening of an Oscar de la Renta fashion boutique but stopped to call art historians after finding a painting hidden behind a wall. It was a 1674 painting by Arnould de Vuez, an artist in the court of Louis XIV, praised as an “inexplicable holy grail” that was restored and can now be seen inside the designer’s shop.