Art hoard worth millions found in Polish shed

Two hundred works of art ranging from the High Renaissance to German Baroque to the Modern period have been discovered in the dirty backyard shed of a retired bricklayer in Szczecin, Poland. Only one work has been positively identified thus far, a 1903 lithograph by Jozef Czajkowski, and it provides a clue as to the provenance of the rest of the paintings: it is listed on the Art Loss Register as having been looted from the Silesia Museum in Katowice, southern Poland, during World War II. The oldest work, still not identified by name, dates to 1532.

The bricklayer, known only as Antoni M. since Polish law prohibits printing his family name at this juncture, is 92 years old and recently suffered a series of strokes. He cannot speak, so we don’t know how he got his hands on this collection. Preliminary investigations indicate that he found the art in the 60s while working on a construction site. He secreted it away and built a shed in his garden purposely to store the purloined paintings.

It’s not just a lean-to, either. According to police reports, the building looked like a bunker or a bomb shelter, with 30-inch-thick walls, a metal door and interior sliding walls. Unfortunately, he paid all that attention to security and none whatsoever to keeping conditions inside the bunker propitious for a massive art collection. The works were exposed to moisture and dust and are in very poor condition.

They’ve been transferred to the National Museum in Szczecin where Polish and Italian art historians are assessing the damage and working to identify each piece.

Antoni M. is under formal investigation for handling stolen art. Polish police are working closely with Interpol to trace the history of the works and figure out how they wound up in a backyard shed.

Here’s some raw footage of piles of art crammed into that filthy shed and then laid out in what looks like a conference room, maybe at the police station or in the museum.