Art-Loving French Mechanic Snags a Renoir Online for $700

Art appreciation can be rewarding on so many levels.

An art shopper looks closely at a painting by French Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir, back in 2012. The painting was discovered for just a few dollars at a Virgina flea market sale. still carries a label from the Berheim-Jeune arthouse in Paris, a famous purveyor of works by Renoir. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/GettyImages

An unemployed mechanic in Lyon, France may have hit the jackpot, all thanks to his love of art. Since losing his job, Ahmed Ziani has kept himself afloat with buying and selling low-priced artworks. But with his latest online purchase, he might have found a long-lost painting by the young Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Progrès reports.

Ziani paid $700 for an artwork listed in the classifieds site Le Bon Coin, which he believed to be an unsigned work by the 18th-century painter Vernet. But as the passion for art seems to run in the family, Ziani’s 11-year-old son spotted a hardly legible signature and a date on the canvas when the work arrived: A. Renoir, 1864.


Consulting literature on Renoir, the studious Ziani identified the artwork as Soir d’Eté, a work created by Renoir when he was only 23, and had yet to develop the impressionist style he is either admired or passionately hated for.

As reported by the Local, records show that the painting was exhibited in Paris in 1865, but has later disappeared and is listed as missing by France’s National Art Institute. To complicate things further, while the painting in Ziani’s possession is marked with a classification number on the back, files from 1853 onward are missing from France’s National Museums’ Archive, making it impossible to determine what the number might indicate.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, <i>Au Moulin de la Galette</i> became one of the worl'ds most expensive paintings when it sold for $78 million back in 1990. Courtesy Artnet

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Au Moulin de la Galette became one of the world’s most expensive paintings when it sold for $78 million back in 1990. Courtesy of Artnet.

While experts who are now examining the work confirmed that the pigments, framework, and type of canvas correspond to those used by Renoir at the time, a decisive authentication could take months. In case of a positive attribution, Ziani could become a multi-millionaire. According to Artnet’s Price Database, Renoir’s Bal au moulin de la Galette sold for a record $78 million at Sotheby’s back in 1990.

This isn’t the first time a Renoir painting lands in the hands of an unsuspecting art lover. In 2012, a masterpiece by Renoir was bought at a flea-market in West Virginia, for just a few dollars. It was for sale in a box of trinkets and still carried a label from the Berheim-Jeune arthouse in Paris, a famous purveyor of works by Renoir. However, it was later found to have been stolen from, and was eventually returned to, the Baltimore Museum of Art, according to Reuters.

What other priceless masterpieces might be tucked away in people’s homes? Only recently, another sensational find was made in France, when a family clearing out their attic stumbled across a forgotten Caravaggio, which was immediately declared a national treasure.

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