A part-time art handler and longtime enthusiast made an unusual find at a thrift store in Queens: a drawing which, unbeknownst to him or the store, was sketched a century ago by Egon Schiele. Now the lucky shopper could walk away with between $100,000 and $200,000—a preliminary estimate for the previously unknown drawing by the long-dead Austrian painter.
The discovery was made more than a year ago at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store in Woodside, Queens, though it took some time to authenticate it.
“I have found other valuable pieces, but not like the Egon Schiele drawing,” the man who found the drawing (and who prefers to remain anonymous) told Gothamist. “When I saw the drawing, it reminded me of the way I enjoyed sketching, so it got my attention instantly. I asked for the price and took it home. I didn’t think much of it because I was more drawn to the way it looked.”
The price was low, the man says—less than $80, which is a tiny fraction of what it is now worth. He didn’t realize what he had found. Later, he came across some of Schiele’s work and was struck by the close similarities with the drawing he had purchased. Suspecting that his drawing was, in fact, by the Expressionism pioneer who was a protegé of Gustav Klimt, he contacted a worldwide expert on Schiele’s work: Jane Kallir, the director of Galerie St. Etienne in Manhattan.
Kallir was skeptical. She frequently hears from strangers saying they’ve found an authentic work by Schiele. Usually those strangers are wrong. “The worst are really very, very bad—indeed, almost funny,” Kallir tells Gothamist. “Those fakes are unlikely to fool anyone, but there are some fakes that can be genuinely dangerous. We once spent months working with the FBI to try to catch a forger who had cheated a couple of investors, but he got away.”
This one, however, was unique. Kallir has been authenticating Schiele’s work since the 1980s, and said in a statement that she has “only once before encountered a drawing with such an unlikely provenance.” When the man first sent a blurry image of the work in 2018, she asked for a better photo. When he finally did so, months later, she asked him to bring it in to the gallery. She was convinced. “Based on the fluidity and spontaneity of the line, this drawing is, in my opinion, clearly by the hand of Egon Schiele,” Kallir’s statement says.
The drawing depicts a nude young girl reclining, a trademark of the artist’s style (and sometimes scandalous propensity for nudity). “People often fall in love with Schiele because he expresses the typical longings and fears of adolescence, the coming to terms with sexual desire and personal identity,” Kallir says. “Schiele is also one of the greatest draughtsman of all time.”
Kallir was able to identify the model as a girl who often posed for the artist, and she believes the drawing likely originated from the same modeling session as two already-known drawings. This would mean that the drawing is from 1918, the same year that Schiele died in the Spanish flu pandemic at just 28 years old.
The discovery is currently on view at Galerie St Etienne until October. The drawing is for sale through the gallery; Kallir estimates that its worth is in the low six figures. If it gets snatched up, the man who found it has said he will donate some of the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity New York City. The Habitat NYC ReStore in question is known for selling furniture and home appliances at a generous discount, with sales going to support Habitat NYC’s mission of affordable homes.
As for why the artist’s work remains in such great demand (and high price) 101 years after his death, Kallir says: “Schiele is a cult hero to many young people, but his work is relatively rare, and expensive. So the market is strong—if you can get the work.”
Reporting by Jen Chung