'Lost $10M painting' given to dog walker auctioned for a fraction

Retired dogwalker bequeathed ‘lost masterpiece’ by famous painter gets nasty auction shock

  • Mark Herman was given the Chuck Close painting by his former employer, lawyer Isidore Silver
  • The piece was part of a banned exhibition by Close in the 1960s
  • The painting sold for $40,000 at an auction house in Dallas earlier this week 

A retired dog walker was bequeathed a painting by an artist whose works sell for millions – but got a nasty shock when he auctioned it for what he hoped would be $10 million.  

Mark Herman, 68, was given the abstract work by Chuck Close by his friend and former customer, Isidore Silver, a retired lawyer. 

Silver, 87, had represented Close in a high profile First Amendment case against the University of Massachusetts in the 1960s, after the institution tried to ban him from displaying nude content as part of an exhibition of his work.

He was given the abstract nude by his former client and bequeathed it to Herman in his final days, after the two became good friends when Herman begun working as a dog walker for his beloved toy Poodle. 

Other works by Close have fetched as much $4.8 million at auction and following a months long struggle to prove the painting’s authenticity, Herman finally seemed poised to scoop a major payout.

‘I was on cloud nine,’ he told the New York Times. He even hallucinated that he would sell the painting for as much as $10M – while he was tripping on magic mushrooms. 

Mark Herman was bequeathed a ‘$10 million’ painting by Chuck Close but was stunned when it sold for just $40,000 at auction

The former dog walker, 68, was given the artwork by his client Isidore Silver after the two became close prior to Silver’s death

But at a Heritage Auctions sale in Dallas earlier this week, the lot attracted just one solitary bid and eventually sold for $40,000 – a fraction of the price he had envisioned.  

‘I had thought maybe it would go for a few hundred thousand, possibly a million,’ Herman explained. ‘What with the back story and all the publicity. But I can’t complain. It’s free money the way I see it.’

The painting captured the art world’s attention after Herman initially took it to be sold by Sotheby’s, only for the auction house to back out of the sale at the last minute since it could not verify its authenticity.

After being asked to cough up $1,742 in auction house costs, Herman had given up selling the 64 x 80 inch painting. That’s when an archivist at the University of Massachusetts discovered proof of its provenance.

A clipping from the student paper in 1967 about Close’s banned exhibition showed him posing with the painting in question.

‘It was just like fireworks going off in my head,’ said Herman. ‘It was one of those moments, like Hollywood. And I still feel that way, he was such a good friend of mine.’

After Silver’s passing, Herman was given $5,000 by his friend’s family in recognition of all he had done for him. He also took custody of his dog, Philippe.

‘His son always felt the painting was his birthright, so I agreed that 12.5 per cent of whatever it makes I will pay to him, I promised him that,’ Herman added. 

Isidore Silver represented the painting’s artist Chuck Close in a high profile First Amendment lawsuit after Close’s employers, The University of Massachusetts, tried to ban his exhibition because it featured nudity

Herman kept the painting rolled up in his Manhattan apartment before deciding to sell with Sotheby’s who backed out of the sale last minute saying they could not verify its authenticity

He suggested that while well below some estimates, the price he got for the painting was ‘about what it is worth’.

‘I mean it’s not a life changing amount but it’s good. They don’t go for more than $75,000, there are some that have gone for more. But this was an outlier, it is not representative of his work,’ Herman said.

Demand for Close’s paintings has also waned since he was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women in the wake of the #MeToo movement. 

Herman explained he never really knew how the painting came into Silver’s possession, speculating it may have been a gift or payment for his services during his court case.

Close ultimately lost the case on appeal, as well as his job and both he and Silver ended up relocating to New York. 

Herman, who owns a video and audio company, decided to sell since he didn’t have the wall space for it at his Manhattan apartment.

‘I would have loved to have kept it but it is crying out for a home in the Hamptons,’ Herman said. ‘The guy who bought it has probably got a bigger wall.’ 

He explained that he had never dabbled in the world of auctions before, although he rejected several offers, some up to $36,000 before deciding to auction the piece.

An archivist at UMASS eventually uncovered a newspaper clipping from 1967 which showed Chuck Close (pictured) posing with the photo as part of the banned exhibition

Herman is philosophical about the relatively small payout, saying ‘It’s free money the way I see it’

‘I know high end video, I know jazz, but I know nothing about art,’ Herman added, revealing that several people had been in touch to inform him he had been displaying the painting the wrong way round.

‘It looks better that way,’ he said, ‘The signature is the right way round with it hung like that, that’s what I told the auction house anyway, so they have my opinion on it,’ he joked. 

He also revealed a friend who is connected in the art world in Paris had advised him that the rare painting could even attract the wrong kind of attention.

‘He said people might come and steal it in the night,’ Herman explained. 

So he is ready to let it go, pointing out that the painting sold for above the $10,000-$20,000 Sotheby’s estimate. 

He is now focused on getting a screenwriter on board to tell his story for the big screen and even revealed that Brad Pitt has been touted as a possible lead. 

‘If we get Brad Pitt on board, then we have a hit,’ Herman said. 

He added that Milo Addica, a screenwriter behind the film Monster’s Ball, had also been in touch and was keen to write something.

‘He told me he was Chuck’s godson and he wanted to do a film around the First Amendment issue, but the family shut him down,’ he added. 

‘It’s like Warhol said, I’m just getting my 15 minutes of fame. It’s been nice reading people’s comments, they seem to have reacted well.

‘But even without me finding the painting, it is still such an interesting First Amendment case.’ 

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