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Stolen Tamayo Masterpiece Worth $1 million Found In Trash

Submitted by on Thursday, 22 November 2007No Comment

Elizabeth Gibson, a woman living in New York who was taking her usual morning walk, found a Rufino Tamayo abstract masterpiece called “Tres Personajes” in the thrash and decided to bring it home.

She knew nothing about the masterpiece or about modern art at that point but decided to bring it home as “it didn’t seem right for any piece of art to be discarded like that…”.

Now, this Tamayo masterpiece is up for auction at Sotheby’s and may fetch up to $1 million.

“Tres Personajes” by Rufino Tamayo

“Tres Personajes” by Rufino Tamayo, a 1970 oil and sand on canvas painting. Est. $750,000 to $1,000,000 – Sotheby’s.

How cool is that… And you know what that means guys – start taking more walks in thrash filled streets!

Here is the story as reported by Lindsay Pollock for Bloomberg:

Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s “Tres Personajes,” a 1970 painting vibrating with reds, yellows and purples, may fetch as much as $1 million at a Sotheby’s auction on Nov. 20, the work’s first public viewing since Elizabeth Gibson spied it in a mound of garbage on a Manhattan sidewalk.

Gibson, a tall, blond 53-year-old resident of the Upper West Side, went out for a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning in 2003. She spotted a large painting poking out from among the garbage bags left on the sidewalk on West 72nd Street. In her pre-caffeinated haze, she kept walking.

“I’m all about de-cluttering, so why was I going to take it home?” she recalled in an interview.

A few minutes and a cup of coffee later, Gibson returned to the trash pile, saw the painting and reconsidered.

“I saw it was a big painting,” she said. “It needed a sleek, large apartment.”

Gibson, who works in radio and as a writer, said her apartment, which she shared with a roommate, was neither sleek nor large. Also, the chipped silver frame looked cheap. Despite these reservations, she lugged the 4-foot-wide painting back to her apartment and hung it on the living room wall.

Thus began a lengthy and at times anguished journey to discover the Tamayo’s history. Gibson said she contacted lawyers, art dealers and friends in an effort to determine whether the painting was anything special. Once she learned that Tamayo was among the most important and valuable Mexican artists — and that her colorful painting with three abstract figures had illustrated the cover of a 1974 Tamayo monograph by journalist Emily Genauer — she hid the painting in her closet, creating a false wall using plywood and a shower curtain.

Burden, Not Blessing

At this point, the painting was more of a burden than a blessing. “I kept researching but I knew I had to do something,” she said.

In 2005, Gibson watched a PBS television program about missing artworks, part of the “Antiques Roadshow” series, that featured the Tamayo. Sotheby’s expert August Uribe, who hosted the segment, explained that “Tres Personajes” had been stolen in 1987 and missing for almost 20 years. The painting’s owners, a Houston couple whom Sotheby’s declined to identify, had purchased the painting at the auction house in 1977 for $50,000. It later went missing from a storage facility in Texas.

The FBI and Houston police had investigated, according to Sotheby’s, but the painting vanished until Gibson’s discovery.

“I remember my heavy heart,” said Gibson, who liked Uribe’s spunk and lack of art-world pretense when she saw him on TV. “Why am I not bringing it in?”

`Mystery Woman’ Calls

Gibson contacted Uribe, initially identifying herself as “Mystery Woman.” She visited him at Sotheby’s with her minister and the next day took him to her apartment, where she pulled out piles of clothing from her closet and revealed the Tamayo.

Uribe immediately recognized the painting, with its rich palette and Tamayo’s signature rough surface, made with sand and ground marble dust mixed into the paint. Uribe wrapped the painting in cardboard, gingerly placed it in a taxi van and returned to Sotheby’s headquarters.

Sotheby’s contacted the FBI, Uribe said, and soon called the owner, who was stunned and decided to sell the following day. The painting had been a gift from her now dead husband.

The theft “was such an emotional trauma,” Uribe said. “She had emotionally divorced herself.”

Tamayo, who died in 1991, remains one of the most sought- after Latin American artists. His 1955 “America (Mural)” fetched a record $2.59 million at Christie’s International in New York in 1993. Christie’s also has a major Tamayo for sale next month, the 1945 “Trovador,” a jaunty guitarist estimated to go for as much as $3 million.

After finding a million-dollar painting in the trash, Gibson has reaped some gain herself. She collected a $15,000 reward from the owner as well as an undisclosed fee from Sotheby’s. Her experiences have inspired her to begin writing a book. Uribe, meanwhile, is focused on the sale in November.

“We have high hopes for the picture,” he said. “The sky’s the limit.”

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