Imagine going to a flea market or antique dealer’s bazaar and unwittingly buying a priceless historical artifact at an incredibly affordable price. What would you do? That’s exactly what happened to Laura Young…
Laura, a freelance antique dealer in Texas, was “on a treasure hunt,” so to speak, when she spotted a white statue among countless second-hand items at Goodwill in 2018.
As soon as she saw the statue, Laura was impressed and touched it to verify that it was not a cheap piece of plastic. The marble bust was cold and heavy.
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With a yellow price tag of $34.99 on his cheek, the bust, which was expected to be sold among a pile of items, depicted a sad and flat-faced man.
Laura suspected that this statue, which she had bought without wasting any time, was a much more special piece than she thought.
Laura Young, 43, tied the statue she bought to the passenger seat of her car and drove home to investigate to shed light on her suspicions.
With the help of experts, Laura would discover within a few months that the bust had been sculpted in Ancient Rome about two thousand years earlier, bought by the king of Bavaria in the early 19th century for display in what is now Germany, and looted at the end of the Second World War!
The sculpture’s journey from 1940s Germany to its second-hand store in Austin more than 70 years later remains a mystery.
The bust is currently on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art as part of an agreement that Young and his lawyer made with the government of Bavaria, a state in Germany, which is the true owners of the bust. The statue will remain there until 2023 before returning to Germany after a hiatus of nearly 80 years.
THE SURPRISING TRUTH WAS REVEALED: THE BUST WAS FROM ANCIENT ROME
But Young knew none of this when, on August 13, 2018, he assigned a Goodwill Boutique employee to carry his 23-pound bust to his car. When Laura took him out of the store and looked at it under the sunlight, it was old and dirty. The nameless man’s hair was in the Greco-Roman style he had seen in other Roman sculptures.
Laura, who began her research by typing “Roman marble bust” into Google when she returned home, says, “I came across all the period sculptures and they all looked like the man in my house.”
Still, Young wondered if the statue was an antique reproduction. He photographed the bust and sent it to various auctioneers and art dealers. Eventually, Young was helped by Jörg Deterling, an advisor to fine arts broker Sotheby’s. About a week later, Deterling confirmed Laura’s hunch: The bust was from ancient Rome.
Deterling, who said that the bust was a work from the Julio-Claudian dynasty period between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, also mediated Young’s access to German authorities.
Laura Young continued to dig into the statue’s past while also hosting her home in her home. Laura and her husband named the bust ‘Dennis’, one of the characters from their favorite series ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’.
On the other hand, the bust turned out to belong to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who lived from 1786 to 1868.
THE MYSTERIOUS JOURNEY FROM THE KING OF BAVARIA TO THE USA.
“The work once stood in the house called Pompejanum, built by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the German town of Aschaffenburg, modeled on a house in Pompeii,” the museum’s website said.
The model house survived for nearly 200 years, but World War II was severely damaged, heavily bombed, and most of the collection was destroyed.
No one knows exactly how the bust, referred to as ‘Portrait of a Man’, almost disappeared and made its way to Austin Goodwill. But the museum thinks it’s likely that the bust was picked up and taken home by a Texas soldier who was on bases set up by the U.S. Army in Aschaffenburg that were used until the Cold War.
AGREEMENT REACHED WITH BAVYETRA GOVERNMENT, BUST WILL RETURN TO ITS HOUSE
In any case, there is one fact that the Bavarian government holds the rightful claim to the bust.
After learning that the statue she bought for just $34.99 was a unique piece of historical Art, Laura teamed up with Leila Amineddoleh, a New York-based lawyer specializing in art law, who began working with the Bavarian government.
The two sides only reached an agreement late last year.
According to Art Newspaper, under this agreement, the Bavarian government will pay Young a ‘finder’ fee in addition to the costs of storing, insuring and returning the bust to Germany. However, Laura Young and her lawyer refuse to provide information on this issue due to a confidentiality agreement.
‘THIS IS A GREAT STORY’
Emily Ballew Neff, director of the museum where the statue is now on display, says of all that happened, “This is a wonderful story that includes the period of the Second World War, international diplomacy, ancient Mediterranean art, second-hand shop detectives, the historic kingdom of Bavaria, and the thoughtful management of those who care about and protect art, whether individually or institutionally.”
Laura, who bought a two-thousand-year-old work of art during a treasure hunt and helped uncover its history, says she was excited to discover the origin of the bust, but was a little bittersweet because she couldn’t hold it or sell it. “Either way, I’m happy to be a small part of its long and complicated history, and it looked great at home when I had it,” Laura says.
Laura Young had previously sold the painting, which she bought at the Goodwill store for a very low price, for $ 63,000.