The search for interesting examples of local art to display at May's Audlem Festival's art exhibition has led to a sensational discovery that should see experts beating their way to the village at Festival time.
In the loft of a house on Woore Road, a wooden box was found which clearly had not been opened in many years. Inside, were what immediately appeared to be four framed Picasso paintings, one of which experts say has not been seen since it was sold in 1912 in Paris. The other three were thought to have been lost or destroyed in the chaos of war in 1940 in northern France.
While final authentication is still awaited, preliminary findings by London experts are positive. It appears the works were originally sold by Picasso's dealer Daniel Henry Kahnweiler to private clients – prices were modest and many could afford extensive collections at the time.
Years later, when war broke out in 1939 and Hitler's armies swept across France in 1940, collectors fearing looting secreted their collections in remote country houses. Many were forgotten with their owners not surviving the Occupation that followed.
While the Audlem residents in possession of the four paintings wish to remain anonymous for the present, they have confirmed that one of their grandfathers was involved in the Normandy landings in 1944 and, they recall, always had an eye out for a bargain.
Whether he 'liberated' the paintings himself as the Allies swept across France, or he simply bought the works off a local, is not known. But it is almost certain that 1945 was about the time the boxed paintings arrived in Audlem and tests on the box have confirmed that approximate date.
"Grandfather died in the late 40s", AudlemOnline has been told by his family. "To be quite frank, we never searched the loft and cannot recall him ever mentioning the paintings. Perhaps he was concerned because of the way they were acquired."
Experts believe the most valuable of the four works is a version of 'Houses on the Hill', created in the summer of 1909 in Horta de Ebro in northern Spain and one of a series of landscapes painted by Picasso that year.
It is the first of the paintings shown above to the right, although we cannot show the version to be displayed at the Exhibition as that, hardly surprisingly, and the other works, are being carefully protected from public view until the opening of the Audlem Festival.
'Brick Factory in Tortosa' seen here to the immediate right is another oil on canvas – this was just before Picasso started experimenting with many mixed media – and is again one of a series with a fine example displayed to this day in The Hermitage in St Petersburg.
The largest of the works to be shown (164 x 132.5 cm) is 'Loaves and Bowl of Fruit' possibly dating from 1908 and painted in Paris – Picasso had moved from Barcelona to Paris in April 1904 – and like so much of his work at this time was also one of a series.
Picasso was hugely prolific after his arrival in Paris, sometimes creating three new works in a day, and the work to be displayed in Audlem is similar to a painting in Basel's Kunstmuseum, seen here in the third painting, below right.
The Audlem discovery echoes other major finds of lost masterpieces, most recently in Salzburg with works by Monet and Cezanne in a modest flat in the Austrian city. In all these cases it seems remarkable that great works of art can have remained locked away for seventy years without discovery.
Perhaps a decision to search all attics may be the lesson to be learnt. In the meantime, it's likely that Audlem's 2014 Festival art exhibition will result in a stampede of art enthusiasts from across Europe to see these lost works by Picasso as well, of course, more modest works by local artists.
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