As she spoke the words to him, his world started to spin as he realized his life was going to change forever. As the lights burned his face, he started to become flushed. He had been foolish for many years, and now everyone was going to know. He should have paid more attention.
Rue Ferguson wasn’t exactly an art connoisseur, but the Texan knew what he wanted. And he most certainly knew that he wasn’t excited about welcoming this painting back into his life. It had always made him a bit uncomfortable. Honestly, he didn’t really know how to feel about it. He thought that it was repulsive, but for some reason, he was drawn to it. If he had known where this painting had come from, he probably wouldn’t have brought it home to his family.
Rue understood that the painting had been around for many generations, but that was about all that he knew. His great-grandparents had acquired the painting in the 1940s, but he wasn’t sure why. He graciously accepted it when it was passed down to him. It was an heirloom after all, but he just put it into storage and forgot about it.
The painting finally came out of storage when Rue moved into a bigger home with his wife. The painting was extremely large and didn’t go with anything, so the only thing they could do was hide it. They hid it behind the door in his office, but Rue felt that the man in the painting stared at him in an accusing way. Rue left it there until, for some reason, he was called to it once again many years later.
Rue found himself staring at the painting one day, motionless. The painting showed a man wearing a loose linen suit, a wide straw hat, and brown leather sandals. The man stared at Rue with a frown, which was stuck not smiling for all of eternity. Rue suddenly got a strange feeling.
He rubbed his fingers along the surface of the painting, feeling all of the whirls and grooves. He could even feel the artist’s brushstrokes. It definitely felt like the painting was made with oil paint. Could it be worth something? He figured that it couldn’t hurt to have it looked at. Even if the painting was worthless, the frame might be worth a few dollars.
Rue immediately wrapped up the painting and headed to where the Antiques Roadshow was filming in the nearby town of Corpus Christi. It was there that the expert Colleene Fesko gave her opinion on the piece of art. Rue would be left speechless once he heard what she had to say.
Rue didn’t realize it at the time, but his father had already had the piece appraised in 1998. Just like Rue, he had a strange feeling one day and brought the painting to the curator of the San Antonio Museum of Art, where the authentication process began. But when Rugeley Ferguson Sr. was given the results, he was crushed.
Unfortunately, the painting was deemed as a fake by the experts at the San Antonio Museum of Art because of an irregular signature in the right-hand corner. The signature said Diego Riviera, but it didn’t match the signatures on the other paintings that he had done. So who was Diego Riviera, and why were his paintings worth so much money?
Diego Riviera was actually one of the most significant political painters of the 20th century, and you can tell why. His paintings often showed the workers of Mexico – the laborers, brick-layers, and the farmers, who were considered to be the backbone of society by Riviera. Mexico now considers Riviera’s paintings to be national treasures.
Most people know who Diego Riviera is because of his chaotic relationship with his wife, Frida Khalo, who is also a respected Mexican artist. But what about the painting that Rue had? Was he about to hear the worst possible scenario about the authenticity of the painting just like his father did?
Colleene Fesko looked at the painting very carefully, and once again, the strange signature took her attention. She looked at Rue and said some something that he didn’t expect for her to say, “Well, there are two extraordinarily intriguing words in an artist’s catalog of paintings…” she started.
“And those are ‘whereabouts unknown’,” she continued. As he listened intently, Rue held his breath. “My understanding of the painting’s history is that it was painted in 1904,” she continued, making sure to pause for effect. “…by Diego Riviera. And at that time, Diego Riviera, who was arguably one of the most important Latin-American 20th Century artists, was only 18 years old.”
Rue felt like the air was leaving his body as he listened to what Colleen had to say. “And there were, I think, only three or four paintings known from that early time…the painting is signed here as ‘Diego Riviera’, 1904. And what’s interesting about the signature is it’s a very young man’s signature.”
Colleene continued, “The research that we found in the authentication process is that it had been missing. In the records of Mexico city it was unknown…where is the painting? Where is ‘El Albañil? Which is ‘The Laborer.’ It was an important painting for him in 1904, and then it disappeared.” Rue couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Well, I think you have something of a painting trifecta here. The painting itself is by a very important artist, it has a terrific history–being purchased in Mexico in 1930–and it’s a very beautiful and important painting. So…trifectas usually pay pretty well,” said Colleene. Rue almost feel to his knees when he heard what she had to say next.
“I would be putting a retail estimate on the painting of between $800,000 and $1,000,000,” she finished. Rue couldn’t believe it! “Seriously?” he exclaimed. Rue had always assumed the painting was worthless, but it was worth a million dollars! How could he have had behind the door for all of those years?
“My gosh…unbelievable. I did not expect that!” Rue was in shock. Ever since the painting was evaluated on the Antiques Roadshow, its value skyrocketed to a whopping $2,200,000! “It’s very rare to see works of Rivera’s that old. It’s not a painting that was sitting in a museum for people to see every day,” said Mariel MacNaughton, the executive of Antiques Roadshow. So what is Rue intending on doing with the painting?
“More than likely I would imagine it needs to be in a museum where everybody can look at it. Now I’m really scared to carry it around at this point,” said Rue. So that’s what Rue did! El Albanil is now hanging in the San Antonio Museum of Art, which is on the Museum Reach of the San Antonio Riverwalk.
This rare and important painting by Diego Riviera is the earliest painting by Riviera located in the United States. By was the reevaluation worth so much more than the original appraisal? “Market-wise, 17 different paintings by the artist have sold for more than $1 million at auction; most recently, ‘The Rivals’ from the Rockefeller collection sold for a record-breaking $9.7 million after a pre-sale estimate of $5 million to $7 million,” Colleene explained. What would you do if you inherited a painting worth so much money?