US painting goes from trash to $ 1 million treasure

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NEW YORK, Nov 21 (Reuters) An oil painting by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo that was plucked from a sidewalk trash heap several years ago sold for more than one million dollars at Sotheby's auction of Latin American art.

The auction house had estimated that ''Tres Personajes'' (''Three Personages''), which was stolen from a Houston warehouse after being bought at auction in 1977, would sell for between 750,000 dollars and one million dollars, but the work ended up selling for 1,049,000 dollars including commission.

The oil-and-sand canvas was rescued from oblivion when a New York woman, Elizabeth Gibson, spotted it in a pile of trash at a curbside on Manhattan's Upper West Side and decided to bring it home.

Gibson walked by the vibrant, 97 by 130 cm work, then ''immediately knew I had to go back. I knew I had to take it,'' she said weeks before the auction.

''It was a huge, powerful and beautiful painting and I said to myself, 'It is wrong to be in the garbage,''' Gibson added. She was told that shortly after her find, a trash collecting truck had come by and hauled away the refuse.

Gibson eventually researched the work and learned of its worth and history through an Internet site.

Sotheby's did not identify the seller, but Gibson was to receive a 15,000 dollars reward for returning ''Tres Personajes'' to its rightful owners, plus an undisclosed percentage of the auction price.

Apart from the Tamayo, the auction was a relatively staid affair, with 20 of 70 lots on offer going unsold. In all it took in 15.235 million dollars, coming in under the pre-sale estimate of 16.5 million dollars to 21.6 million dollars.

The top lot was Fernando Botero's ''Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe,'' which fetched 1,329,000 dollars, missing its low estimate, which was 1.4 million dollars.

Roberto Matta's ''Et At It,'' which was expected to sell for 2.5 million dollars to 3.5 million dollars, failed to sell. Another Tamayo, ''Bodegon con Mujer,'' also failed to sell.

By contrast Christie's auction totalled 21.7 million dollars, the second best ever for auctioned Latin American art and just under the 22 million dollars record Christie's set in May.

Reuters SG DB1010

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