Man Finds Long-Lost Early Willem de Kooning Painting Online for $500

Experts on the TV show 'Fake or Fortune?' deemed it authentic.

Willem de Kooning Portrait of a Child (ca. 1920). Photo: YouTube.
Willem de Kooning Portrait of a Child (ca. 1920). Photo: YouTube.

A portrait bought by a Belgian couple on a second hand website for €450 ($509) has turned out to be a long lost early work by the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. The work by the Dutch-American master—painted in Brussels in the 1920s—could be worth up to $113,000.

Art lover Jan Starckx stumbled upon the painting depicting a young child with brown hair wearing a red jacket while browsing classifieds listings online.

According to the French daily Le Figaro, the Belgian recognized that the signature on the back of the canvas resembled that of de Kooning, prompting him to research the work in more detail. He discovered that his new acquisition contained striking resemblances to another painting by the artist titled Portrait of Renee.

“It is by seeing this picture that I was convinced it was a genuine Willem de Kooning,” Starckx said. “From the first day I had this intuition that, if the Renee portrait is by de Kooning, mine would be too.”

Starckx decided to contact the producers of the BBC television program “Fake or Fortune?” that investigates the authenticity of works of arts. In the season’s final episode, which aired this past Sunday, the couple traveled to Miami with art expert Philip Mould to compare the painting with a verified de Kooning from around the same period.

Although a definitive authentication is not possible because the American de Kooning Foundation no longer authenticates works, a chemical analysis of the pigment was elementally identical in both artworks.

“We had hit a brick wall,” Mould said. “The recognized authorities were unable to engage. More than ever we had to fall back on our own art historical and scientific observations. Fortunately the evidence that emerged was transformative. A junk shop-type speculation can now be identified as an early work by one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.”

The original work is now in storage, before it heads to a string of exhibitions in Belgium and the US, while a reproduction adorns the walls of the Starckx’s home.


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