An otherwise unknown drawing by Egon Schiele was found at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store in Queens, New York, more than a century after the Austrian painter’s death, and it could now sell for $100,000 to $200,000.
The pencil drawing was of a reclining nude girl, said to have been drawn in 1918, the year that the artist died of the Spanish flu. Schiele was a prominent and pioneering artist during Austria’s expressionist movement and was closely mentored by Gustav Klimt. Jane Kallir, director of Galerie St. Etienne in New York and publisher of the first complete catalog of Schiele’s watercolors and drawings, confirmed the information after careful examination.
Kallir was originally contacted last year by the buyer of the work who had sent her photos but were too blurry for any examination. Kallir didn’t think much of it, given how frequently she gets contacted regarding fakes, copies or misidentified Schiele works but asked for clearer photos nonetheless. A year later, the buyer complied and she asked him to bring the drawing to the gallery.
Kallir said that as soon as she saw the work in person, she was certain that it was a real Schiele art work, but she still took the time to compare it to other works.
“If you look at the way this girl is lying on her back, and you look at the foreshortening both on the rib cage and on her face, and the way you see that little nose pointing up—think about how difficult that is to do [. . .] There are very few people in the history of art who can draw like that.”
“I wanted to see how this drawing fit with the other drawings,” Kallir said. “It fit perfectly, and I could almost pinpoint the modeling session from which it came, so then my initial gut was confirmed, and I said ‘yeah, this is it.'”
Schiele did approximately 20 drawings of this girl as well as her mother and Kallir said that two other works were likely made on the same day as this particular one. Those works now sit in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria.
The drawing is now for sale through her gallery and on display as part of an exhibition called “The Art Dealer as Scholar.” If it sells, the buyer who discovered it plans to donate some of the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity New York City, Kallir said.
“I’ve been doing this since the 1980s, and this is only the second time something like this has happened,” Kallir said of how lucky the buyer was in spotting the work. While the buyer’s identity remains anonymous, Kallir did say that he is a part-time art handler, picker and collector who has a good eye.
Schiele’s works weren’t particularly sought after until the 1970’s and Kallir said that this work was framed shortly before then. “You’re looking at something that, at that moment, wasn’t worth all that much, that was framed in a manner that made it look like a piece of junk, so somebody gave it away without knowing what they had,” she said. Had the work not been discovered at the Habitat NYC ReStore, it could have easily ended up being lost forever or destroyed somehow.
Despite being virtually unknown in the United States, Schiele was and is still considered a national treasure in Austria. A lot of his works were brought to the U.S by Jews and other Europeans fleeing the Nazis in the 30’s and 40’s.