A REAL life Del Boy thinks he's snapped up an "original" £750k Picasso painting at a car boot sale for just £230.
Wheeler dealer Philip Stapleton was drawn in by the frame of the Seated Bather painting and assumed the artwork was a good fake.
At first thinking it a bargain, he then feared he'd been ripped off and left it on his desk for another six months before finally taking it to an auction house.
Within a week auctioneer Rosie May pointed out four tell-tale hallmarks appeared to show it was the work of the Spanish cubist.
She believes art collectors could well shell out between £5,000 and £10,000 on the off chance it could be an original, even without the proof that it is.
Philip is refusing to cough up the thousands required to complete the authentication, meaning its origin remains a mystery.
“I still can’t really believe what has happened," said Philip, 52.
“I’m like a rabbit caught in the headlights. It’s a very strange feeling. I feel kind of numb.”
Philip of Crawley, West Sussex, said he didn't think much of the artwork at first.
“With my limited knowledge of art, I could see it was probably painted in the 1930s, 40s or early 50s," he said.
I’m like a rabbit caught in the headlights. It’s a very strange feeling. I feel kind of numb
“It looked quite interesting. I didn’t have any idea it was going to turn out the way it has."
Rosie, of Brighton and Hove Auctions, said: “First of all we dismissed as someone had copied a Picasso and put it in a frame.
“The signature did not sit well with me, the Seated Bather is 1930s and this was an early signature.
“But it caught our attention and we looked on the back and in very faint writing it said the words ‘Roland Penrose Estate.’"
Penrose lived 20 minutes away from the auction house in Chiddingly and spent a lot of time with the painter, Rosie explained.
“They were very good friends, Roland Penrose organised exhibitions of Picasso’s work which was intriguing.”
But stunned Rosie then found another possible proof.
“Underneath it it said ‘P Picasso Collections’ spelt wrong with one ‘l’ which is obviously a foreign spelling of it," she said.
“Just underneath as far as I can make out it says the name of a nephew of Picasso who had his own collection of Picasso.
“Then it was getting really interesting.
“We took the back off and on the back of the actual painting in very faint pencil you can clearly see the Picasso signature.
There is so much so much circumstantial evidence that adds up that its gone to be (genuine).“There are too many references that all tie up together. It’s detective work
“It’s a later signature now and a message in pencil and you can make out the word “To Roland” and a date.
“Picasso did gift his artwork to friends and he would sign them and date them.
“If this just a copy someone would not know and wouldn’t put a note to Roland on the back.
“We think its a preliminary study that was done at the time of the Seated Bather which explains the earlier signature which looks 1915-18.
“I think he then made a bigger picture of it later called the Seated Bather."
Rosie said the took the painting to Roland Penrose’s son Antony Penrose to see if he had any knowledge of it at all, but he was unable to find any record of it in their collection.
Rosie added: “There is so much so much circumstantial evidence that adds up that its gone to be (genuine).
“There are too many references that all tie up together. It’s detective work.
“If it was authenticated completed it would be around £750,000.
“We can’t authenticate it, other than having paint analysis done on it, but that costs thousands.
“Large Picassos go for £2.5million.
“Because its a study, because of the history with it and the messages it's about £750,000."
Philip, who like Del from Only Fools and Horses "wheels and deals for fun", added: “I was blown away by what Rosie found.
“I was so unconvinced of its prominence and that it could be Picasso I didn’t take it apart myself.
“I’m still in a disbelieving mode. I’m still coming to terms with it.”
The painting is set to go under the hammer at the Brighton and Hove Auctions on June 7.
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