Two decades ago, the painting sat abandoned in a farm shed, covered in bird droppings. It sold Thursday at auction for $3.1 million. The large oil painting, discovered by art collector Albert B. Roberts in the shed in Kinderhook, New York, around 2002, was later confirmed as a work of 17th-century Flemish artist and Dutch Golden Age master Anthony Van Dyck, a former assistant to Peter Paul Rubens. According to the UK Times, Kinderhook was founded by Dutch settlers in the late 17th century, which might explain how the painting came to be there.
Depicting a naked and bearded older man on a stool, it was likely painted between 1615 and 1618 as a study or reference image for Van Dyck's "Saint Jerome" (1618–20), held at the Netherlands' Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, CNN reports. "The connection between the two is unmistakable; much of the musculature is uniformly rendered, and the man's proper right arm is positioned nearly identically," according to auction house Sotheby's. The Dutch museum has displayed the study—one of only two studies the artist created from live models—which was authenticated by art historian Susan Barnes in 2019, per Insider and All That's Interesting.
That was well after Roberts paid just $600 for it in 2002. At the time, he noted the painting was in "pristine condition" but "happens to include bird droppings on the back," per Insider. Roberts "was a passionate collector of 'lost' pieces, describing his collection as 'an orphanage for lost art that had suffered from neglect,'" according to Sotheby's. His estate put the large oil painting, almost 3 feet tall, up for auction on Thursday, with a portion of proceeds from the sale going to the Albert B. Roberts Foundation, which provides financial support to artists and charities. (Read more auction stories.)