Jan and Chris Starckx purchased what they called The Portrait of a Child at an auction for just €450 back in the 1970s. However, over the years, they began to suspect that they were sat on something rather special. After various trials, which even took the pair to Miami to compare the picture to another genuine Kooning, Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould arrived at the couple’s Belgian home to deliver the good news.
“Well, what we have here is an advantage because we know the other painting went for €50,000,” Philip beamed. “I believe, in many ways, that your picture is superior. The artistic impact, the characterisation of the child, the condition is so good, and you have the name carved into the wet paint, and therefore think it’s worth excess of €50,000. I could see it making up to €100,000.”
However, despite buying the painting over four decades ago, they may not be entitled to own the portrait without being able to clear up who sold the picture to them and why.
Chris explained: “After Miami, we came back and I was contacted by the vendor. He told me the person who left painting died three years ago, and left a lot of money and his belongings to his son. This man, he managed to lose all of his money in a very short time and became homeless. At some point, he was asked to clear his house because he didn’t pay the rent, so he asked two friends to get rid of all his belongings and to sell them.”
Fiona chipped in: “This is really important; the man who owned the painting asked his friends to get rid of it for him? Did he write that down – was there any instructions or anything?”
“The sad fact is, you may not own this picture,” sighed Philip. “If the people who sold it to you did not have the right to sell it, you don’t own it.”