Just imagine: A priceless work by Picasso, whose existence is a secret shared by few, turns up half a century later. At an estate sale in suburban New Jersey. Hidden in a frame, and hidden behind another piece of art.
Art collector Keith Coppola says the truth is beyond anyone’s imagination – and insists he’s not going to windmills with his story of discovering the long-unseen Picasso who portrays Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza buying $75 worth of art in the Garden State.
Dated Feb. 11, 1955, and delivered to Springsteen country just months later, the work is the real deal, corroborated by years of digging and verified by a cadre of world-renowned experts, according to Coppola.
He has invested more than a dozen years trying to convince Picasso’s estate of the masterpiece’s existence, a quest reminiscent of a well-known character from fiction.
“It’s all like everyone has said to me, ‘You’re Don Quixote! You’ve become him,'” admits Coppola. “Nobody believes you, it’s so far-fetched that you almost don’t want to believe me. proof you have to believe me when you really look at it.”
The ink brushwork of the two characters that author Miguel de Cervantes conjured up in the early 1600s was created well before Picasso’s academically accepted second incarnation, he said. That version, signed by the artist on August 10, 1955, is kept in a cellar vault at St. Denis Church in France.
The work was featured in the French weekly Les Lettres Françaises to celebrate the 350th anniversary of part one of Cervantes’ epic novel Don Quixote, published in 1605.
But Coppola can spend hours recounting the details of his February artwork and the many contrasts to the later piece: the subtle inclusion of the constellations in tribute to Picasso’s late wife, a hidden phallus symbol, the open mouth of the donkey that belonged to to Sancho – and even its size: 62 inches by 48 inches, compared to 65 by 50 in the worldwide known version.
Coppola, 55, a former Jersey man now in South Carolina, notes that the February date at work coincides with the death of Picasso’s 37-year-old wife and longtime muse, ballerina Olga Khokhlova — a crucial link to the truth.
‘She was Picasso’s goddess, a spiritual inspiration,’ he said, ‘and now she is denied existence in the capacity of commemorating her. Without Olga there would be no Don Quixote.”
He also cites a diary by Picasso friend Peter Smith with an entry in December 1955 that specifically states, “Arthur and Margarita went back to NJ with a don Quixote P given them. Pretty big.”
The reference is to Arthur Getz and Margarita Gibbons, two friends of the artist.
Smith also referred to Picasso’s earlier work on March 17, 1955, in an earlier contribution. And since the other Don Quixote was undoubtedly created seven months later, the truth of his work is impossible to deny, Coppola said.
Experts from renowned auction house Sotheby’s declined to cooperate, citing a “no comment” policy for unverified works. An email to the equally well-known auction house Christie’s about the piece went unanswered.
And the Picasso succession suggested in an email from the Paris headquarters where it oversees the artist’s estate that Coppola simply unearthed “a reproduction of the drawing made by a communist association in the 1960s” based on from his first call to the group in 2010.
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free email alerts for breaking news.
“The follow-up states that the work may be a reproduction of Les Letters Francais, which is certainly an error on their part,” Coppola replied. “Besides, the work for the Communist Party is Augustus’s Don Quixote, not my work.”
The estate didn’t mention Coppola’s second submission with more evidence four years later, and a personal attempt at verification that failed to resolve in 2015. A scheduled live meeting for 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19 and Coppola is still waiting for another chance to show his piece to the Picasso gatekeepers.
The Daily News was allowed to view the work, but was not allowed to take pictures.
Coppola, in addition to his own art experts, hired specialists in forgeries, paper, ink, canvas and even the artist’s signature to examine the piece, all echoing his conclusion. An expert from Christie’s once examined the earlier Don Quixote, stopped just before a stamp of approval, but he recalled clearly swaying back and forth.
“It’s a masterpiece,” Coppola emphasizes. “And one that’s incredibly magical.”
The veteran art collector, who nearly lost the one-of-a-kind work in an apartment fire before realizing its value, plans to release a series of NFTs linked to his “Don Quixote” in an effort to help both people decide for themselves — and to prompt the Picasso estate to take another look.
“We want to take it to the court of public opinion because we have so much evidence,” he said. “We feel that instead of going back and forth with the Picassos, we let anyone who has an opinion fight it out.”