Man Buys $30 Sketch Worth Millions

Otis Adams
The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bank, circa 1503Attributed to Albrecht Durer/Agnews Gallery

A man, who wishes to keep his identity anonymous, was perusing the items at an estate sale in Massachusetts in 2016 when he discovered a drawing on linen for $30. It is now believed that the sketch was drawn by the hand of a sixteenth century Renaissance master.

The sketch was being sold by the daughters of the architect Jean-Paul Carlhain after his death. It had been passed down through the family, originally obtained by a family member who bought it in France. The Art Newspaper believes it was purchased in 1919 and kept by the family until the estate sale. Carlhain died in 2012 and his widow died a few years later.

Both the buyer and those running the estate sale noticed the "A.D." at the bottom of the sketch, though neither believed it was a genuine original work from Albrecht Durer. The mark is well known in the art world and is sometimes added by imitators. Both the sellers and buyer assumed it was just a reproduction. The man bought it simply because he liked the elegant drawing of a mother with her baby.

The drawing is of the virgin Mary, somewhat awkwardly holding a nude baby Jesus while seated on a bench.

A previously unknown Albrecht Durer work had not been discovered since the 1970's, though experts now believe it to be real. Scholars have examined the ink sketch and agree that it is authentic and was perhaps drawn in preparation for a better-known painting Durer created in 1506.

The estimated value of the sketch that was purchased for $30 is guessed to be $50 million.

The Art Newspaper says the drawing was unveiled to the world at the Agnews Gallery in London after sitting in the buyer's home for most of the last six years.

Recognition of the sketch's authenticity began when Jane McAusland discovered a watermark consistent with more than 200 known Durer works. It was also discovered that the "AD" had been signed with the same ink that was used in the drawing, a habit of the artist.

Christof Metzger, a curator at the Albertina Museum in Vienna who has specialized knowledge of Durer's work, joined the investigation. After examining the piece, he declared it to be authentic. His verdict was supported by Giulia Bartrum, a Durer specialist who formerly worked at the British Museum.

Though the drawing's journey is yet unknown, a likely theory is that it was among the Durer works acquired by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in 1588. It could then have travelled to France in the collection of Count Hubert de Pourtales in the 1800's. The family who unknowingly sold the authentic Durer for $30 is known to have bought four Durer pieces from this collection in 1919.

The lucky and anonymous bargain shopper has already been given $100,000 advance and will see far more once the sale at Agnews is concluded in December.

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Author of Lavatory Reader #1: This Road, now available on Amazon. Otis Adams is the author of three books and has won two dozen awards for his screenplays and short fiction. He writes regularly on and can be contacted at

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