An Art World Mystery That Started in Hubbard Woods in Winnetka
I live in Hubbard Woods, the northern part of Winnetka, IL. Tony, the neighbor who lived behind me, used to walk his dog around the block and always stop at our house. We had a border collie that loved to sit in the front yard (with an electronic fence) and he would always stop to pet my dog. That's how I got to know him.
One day while we were talking, he told me an intriguing story. Admittedly, I didn't totally think it could possibly be true. But here it is.
He said that he had come across an incredible oil painting in an English antique store. It depicted Mary holding the infant Jesus in her lap as her cousin and John the Baptist looked on. The shopkeeper told Tony that the artwork could be from the Renaissance.
I knew Tony as a carpenter since he often did work in his garage which abutted our back fence. But he was also an amateur artist and recognized something special in that antique store in 1995.
He asked some friends to invest with him and they bought the painting for $30,000. From that moment until his untimely death in 2022, his life was consumed working to authenticate the painting as that of the famous Renaissance painter Raphael.
On February 1, 2023, I opened the Wall Street Journal to see this headline:
"Is She or Isn't She? Riches Are at Stake in Art World Mystery"
I remember telling my husband, "oh, another story like Tony's." And then I read the first line of the article, "Anthony Ayers had a hunch that he'd found a masterpiece." It really was my neighbor Tony.
The article goes on to say that if the Raphael is proven authentic, it would be a seismic discovery. Raphael was a giant of the Italian Renaissance with fewer than 200 works and anything he created would be worth a fortune.
At this moment, there are 40 people (along with his widow) who have invested more than $500,000 to identify the painting.
Several investors hold the painting in its storage vault in Illinois
One expert felt the painting was a Raphael "in the early and transitional period of his Florentine sojourn." Another thinks it may have been painted by a Raphael admirer named Antonio del Caraiolo.
Artificial intelligence has also been used on the painting and its findings strongly point to Raphael. They feel they have the proof they need. One investor says, "We have the science behind us. We have experts behind us. It took us 30 years to build a case." The world of old art, however, is not so quick to jump on the bandwagon.
It's been a long exasperating journey for Tony's investors. One of them even named his newborn son Raphael - that boy is now 17. The investors are hoping that more scholars will get involved and give the painting more attention.
Now, in 2023, almost 30 years after Tony found the painting, I'm wishing I hadn't been so quick to think the painting couldn't be a real masterpiece. It's amazing that a neighbor, right here in Hubbard Woods, would confound the art world with his amazing discovery.
My fingers are crossed for the investors. Until its painter is positively identified, the painting remains unseen in a vault in Illinois.