A Rare Soulages Lithograph Possibly Worth $30,000 Sells For $130 in Facebook Marketplace Mishap

When Sarah Bonner listed the work on Facebook, she had no idea of its value.

Pierre Soulages (1974). Photo by Jacques Haillot / Sygma / Sygma via Getty Images.

Sarah Bonner purchased an abstract artwork from Facebook Marketplace in 2021, and this year decided to sell it again on the same platform. She was contacted by 35-year-old Leigh Capel, who offered her AUD$200 ($130) for the painting—twice what Bonner had listed the piece for.

Bonner (also listed online as Sarah Thomas) told Gold Coast Bulletin that Capel “chatted away and was very nice” when he collected the painting. It is not clear whether Bonner knew at this stage that Capel was in fact the director of Belle Epoque Fine Art Gallery in Sydney as well as an accredited fine art valuer, and that he had bagged himself a huge bargain for a rare print by the French painter Pierre Soulages.

In their original Facebook interaction—which Bonner shared with 9News—Capel initially offered AUD$120 ($79), saying he was “happy to pay $200 to help change your mind” after Bonner mentioned that another buyer was meant to be picking the artwork up the next day. Capel said “I collect abstract works and really like it!” before Bonner accepted his AUD$200 ($130) offer.

The Australian mum of three was reportedly pleased to have made the AUD$200 ($130), but it was only when another Facebook user contacted her about the piece that she realised that its estimate value could be at least 100 times more. The work—signed and numbered by its creator, who passed away in 2022 aged 102—appears to be from Soulages’ 1957 “Lithographie No. 3” series in which only 200 prints were made. Bonner’s edition appeared to be number 67 of the 200.

In 2014, the French president François Hollande described Soulages as “the world’s greatest living artist.” Soulages’s record price at auction is $20.1 million at Sotheby’s in 2021, and the highest price recorded for a print from the “Lithographie No. 3” series, edition number 118/200, was $30,000, achieved at artnet auctions in December 2022. Another edition is currently listed for $30,060 on the French art collecting website Collector Square.

Bonner swiftly got in touch with Capel to ask for the work back, believing that he knew what the work was really worth and that he had taken “advantage of the situation.” She claims that Capel blocked her number, and consequently both Capel and his mother Susan—who established Belle Epoque Fine Art in May 2005—declined comment when contacted by Gold Coast Bulletin and Australia’s 9News. On their website, Belle Epoque Fine Art claim to have worked for A-list clientele including  “Mel Gibson, Russel Crowe, Baz Luhrmann and Barry Otto.” Artnet News reached out to Capel for comment but did not immediately hear back.

While it does not appear that Capel did anything unlawful, Bonner told Gold Coast Bulletin that she felt “sick to my stomach that I’d handed over what’s not even a weekly shop for me and my three kids”.

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