5 Multi-Million-Dollar Paintings Lost and Now Found

Many of the world’s extraordinary works of art have been lost, stolen, or forgotten through the years, only to resurface decades later in unusual places like attics and basements. These unearthings have been nothing short of miraculous and have enriched our understanding and appreciation of art.

Valuable Paintings Discovered in Attics and Basements

Homeowners do strike oil in their backyards, however rare, and people do find treasures hidden in plain sight. As evidence of such remarkable finds, here are some missing masterpieces found in storage rooms and other surprising locations.

1. “Sunset at Montmajour” by Vincent van Gogh

“Sunset at Montmajour” is a magnificent oil painting by the legendary post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh – one of the greatest painters in history. The inarguably breathtaking work of art showcases Van Gogh’s unique style and his ability to capture nature’s beauty and serenity. The painting depicts a sunset over the Montmajour Abbey in Arles, France, where Van Gogh lived for a time. The vibrant color combinations, including the deep oranges, pinks, and purples of the sky, create a warm and tranquil atmosphere. Van Gogh also used loose and expressive brushstrokes to add life to the trees and bushes in the foreground, adding to the painting’s overall impressionistic quality.

Disappearance and rediscovery: “Sunset at Montmajour” is one of Van Gogh’s most beautiful and admired creations. Found in a storage room at the Norwegian National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design in Oslo, Norway, it was misattributed to be a work by a lesser-known artist for many years. In 2013, the painting underwent extensive research and analysis, including x-rays and chemical tests, which confirmed its authenticity as a genuine Vincent van Gogh painting. It was subsequently displayed at the museum and has since been widely recognized as a major discovery in the world of art.

Location today: The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.


2. “An Allegory of the Sense of Smell” by Rembrandt van Rijn

“An Allegory of the Sense of Smell” or “Unconscious Patient” is an etching by Rembrandt van Rijn. Created in the early 1630s, this painting is a masterpiece of the Dutch Golden Age. It features a reclining figure, lying unconscious on a bed, with various objects surrounding him that symbolize the five senses. The use of light and shadow in the painting is particularly striking, with the figure’s face and hands illuminated by a bright light source. This creates a dramatic and intense contrast with the darker surroundings, emphasizing the sense of fragility and vulnerability of the unconscious patient.

Rembrandt’s masterful handling of light and his ability to convey the emotional state of his subjects are hallmarks of his style and are on full display in “Unconscious Patient.” This etching is a testament to Rembrandt’s artistic talent and his enduring legacy as one of the greatest artists of all time.

Disappearance and rediscovery: This painting was missing for centuries until it turned up in a New Jersey basement.

Location today: The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California.


3. “Portrait of a Lady” by Gustav Klimt

“Portrait of a Lady” is one of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s most recognizable and celebrated works. Painted around 1917-1918, the piece features a mysterious and elegant woman in Klimt’s characteristic golden style. The woman has a gentle and enigmatic expression, and decorative ornaments adorn her long hair, which further adds to the painting’s allure. Her clothing also has intricate patterns and gold highlights, which reflect the richness and beauty of the culture and society of the time.

Disappearance and rediscovery: In 1997, this masterpiece vanished from an art gallery in northern Italy. Presumed stolen, it reappeared in 2020, when a gardener clearing away ivy at the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery found a painting covered in plastic within an external wall. Experts later confirmed that that piece is the long-lost Klimt painting.

Location today: Galleria d’arte moderna Ricci Oddi in Piacenza, Italy.


4. “Portrait of a Lady as Flora” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

“Portrait of a Lady as Flora” is a painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, an Italian Rococo artist known for his highly decorative and imaginative paintings. The portrait depicts a young woman dressed in a flowing gown and embellished with flowers, symbolizing the Roman goddess of spring and flowers, Flora.

The painting showcases Tiepolo’s mastery of color, light, and texture, as well as his ability to create a sense of movement and grace in his figures. The lady in the portrait has a delicate, ethereal beauty, and her expression is gentle and serene. Tiepolo painted the intricate details of her gown and the flowers in her hair with great care, adding to the overall sense of delicacy and refinement in the painting. Its composition is harmonious, and the use of light and shadow helps to create a sense of depth and volume.

Disappearance and rediscovery: Found in a French chateau attic, experts presume that Empress Elizabeth of Russia commissioned the painting, though there are no records confirming whether she, who died in 1762, received it or ever had it in her possession. It is one of the few existing Tiepolo paintings of “beautiful” women in fancy dresses, and it will remain among the most coveted and recognized of all Tiepolo’s creations.

Location today: Christie’s sold it to a private collector for $3.1 million in 2017.


5. “Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Caravaggio

“Judith Beheading Holofernes” is a painting by the world-renowned Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio. It illustrates the moment in the biblical story when Judith, a Jewish widow, beheads the Assyrian general Holofernes to save her people. The painting is famous for its dramatic composition, the intense expressions on the faces of the figures, and Caravaggio’s use of light and shadow to create a sense of tension and violence. The dark background serves to highlight the intense physical struggle between Judith and Holofernes, as well as the palpable fear on Holofernes’ face as he realizes his fate.

The painting is one of Caravaggio’s most acclaimed masterpieces and has had a profound influence on the development of Western art. Its powerful imagery and emotional impact have made it a popular subject for art lovers, historians, and religious scholars for centuries.

Disappearance and rediscovery: The exact emergence and provenance of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” is not well documented, but experts presume that Caravaggio painted it between 1598 and 1602. Ciriaco Mattei, a powerful banker and art patron, supposedly commissioned the piece for his collection. After Caravaggio’s death, the painting disappeared and its whereabouts were unknown for several centuries. In the 1900s, a Toulouse auctioneer found the painting in a dark, cluttered, leaky attic. It has since been widely recognized as a masterpiece of Caravaggio’s early period.

Location today: The Palazzo Barberini in Rome, Italy.


Sell Artwork in Scottsdale-Chandler, AZ

Rare paintings by famous artists are luxury investments that guarantee financial return. The next time you’re rummaging through an attic or basement, keep your eyes peeled for any valuables that could be worthy of selling to Biltmore Loan and Jewelry. We are always on the lookout for new, interesting, and eclectic finds, so don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our office if you think you’ve stumbled upon something special.