A Man Stumbled Upon Two 17th-Century Paintings in the Garbage at a Highway Rest Stop. Now Police Are Trying to Figure Out How They Got There

The paintings were discovered in a dumpster near Cologne last month.

Painting by the artist Pietro Bellotti. Courtesy Cologne Police.

Police in Germany are appealing to the public for tips about the origins of two 17th-century paintings that mysteriously ended up in the garbage at a highway rest stop last month.

According to authorities in the western city of Cologne, a 64-year-old man stumbled upon the two oil paintings in a dumpster at a rest stop near Ohrenbach on May 18. The man, who was taking a driving break at the stop at around 4 p.m., took the paintings with him and later turned them in to police in Cologne.

After the paintings were examined by an expert, police concluded that they are both 17th-century originals, and have put out a public appeal to find their owner: “Who knows the paintings shown and / or how they got into the dumpster at the service area?”

Painting by the artist Samuel van Hoogstraten. Courtesy Cologne Police.

Painting by the artist Samuel van Hoogstraten. Courtesy Cologne Police.

The first painting is a raucous self-portrait by the Italian painter Pietro Bellotti, dated to 1665. The other is a portrait of a boy by the Dutch Old Master Samuel van Hoogstraten, which has not been dated.

The auction record for a Belloti is $190,000, achieved at the Swiss house Koller Auktionen in 2010, according to Artnet’s Price Database. There are multiple versions of the painting, and a very similar portrait, titled Self-Portrait of the Artist as Laughter, was put up for sale at Christie’s London in 2006 (estimate: $55,000–$91,000) and then at Bonhams London in 2008 (estimate: $29,000–$44,000), though both works failed to find buyers. Other versions of the Bellotti painting are in the collection of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, the Pinacoteca di Brera, and a third was once part of the Scheufelen Collection in Stuttgart.

Meanwhile, works by Van Hoogstraten, who studied under Rembrandt in Amsterdam, have sold for as much as $788,000 (at Christie’s Monaco in 1993). The artist is best known for his experiments with perspective.

A spokeswoman for Cologne’s police department told Artnet News that they are following up on some new leads but have yet to find the owner of the paintings.

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