The Cornwall Painting

Joe Lanzon
Jack Prentice operated an art and antique business from a small shop in the Sloan Street area of London. He bought his articles from auctioneers, car boot sales, heirs who wanted to clear inherited properties and from various other sources as they came long. 
He had a well-stocked shop, bursting at the seams. But he sold many of his antiques – mostly paintings, silver objects, ornamental pieces, small items of furniture, statues – to clients who regularly called at his shop to enquire what’s available. His daughter Jenny often assisted him or replaced him when he, for some reason or other, was not able to be present. But she was not much interested in the business. At the age of 25 she married and left to live in the suburbs. Jack, a widower, was left to carry on the business all alone.
When her father died a few years after her marriage, Jenny made arrangements to clear the shop and sell everything. The contents of the shop were snapped up by art and antique enthusiasts and collectors. The sale brought her a considerable sum of money which she invested in a Hair dressing shop. She had separated from her husband and wanted to invest in this shop to provide for her livelihood. She had however retained just one painting. It was a fairly large one depicting a lovely village scene in Cornwall. It was signed by the famous Richard Milton Hayes. She remembered her father telling her that this was an invaluable piece of art worth a fortune. The signature at the bottom of the painting confirmed its priceless value.
As the years rolled by, Jenny’s shop had to close down. It lacked business because neighbours moved on to more refined areas. Also, younger hairdressers with much more modern ideas, opened up in the area. These were more popular. As a result Jenny lost the investment she had originally made in the venture. But even though money was now lacking, she kept hold of the Cornwall painting. She always told her daughter Bella that the painting would one day bring her a fortune. It was, she assured her, her nest egg for the future. She advised her daughter that it should only be sold in case of an emergency, when money was really needed.  
Jenny died when Bella had her 21st birthday. She had planned to marry her boyfriend Alan that same month but had to postpone the wedding for three months in order to get over her mother’s demise. Bella had noted that the worn-out frame of the painting was depreciating its appearance and had intended to change it with a new gold-edged frame to give the painting more effect. But she never did and left the painting with the old frame stored in the basement.As the date of the wedding approached, Bella and Alan agreed to sell the Cornwall painting so that they could buy a cottage outside where they planned to live and raise a family in quieter surrounding than London. She went down to the basement, stared down at the magnificent painting and felt sad at having to part with this heirloom. Reluctantly she brought it upstairs for careful packing and for showing to prospective antique and art dealers. Then she went to a renowned art dealer for valuation and to proceed with the sale of the painting. The dealer looked at it expertly, turning it around to observe it more closely. He told her that he needs to study it thoroughly so that he would be in position to give a proper valuation of the art object. He asked her to call on him in a week’s time after he would have made his studies and consultation with other experts. 
Bella spent an anxious week. She needed the money to start them up on their impending marriage. She did not, at first, want to part with the painting, it being an inheritance from her grandfather. But circumstances forced her hand. Her marriage was more important than anything in the world.  The week passed all too quickly. Bella and Alan called on the art dealer to finalize matters. As soon as he saw them he left his counter, greeted them profusely and asked them to follow him to the inner room. They sat down to discuss the painting. The art dealer run his fingers through his white hair, coughed and then said – “It has been established without doubt that it is not a Richard Milton Hayes painting. The signature is a fake. I’m very sorry to say this but, in the circumstances, the painting is worth only a few pounds”.
Bella and Alan stood open-mouthed. It was the surprise of their lives. Bella was always been made to believe that the painting was worth a fortune. What a disappointment! The dream of the cottage in the country would remain a dream. They would have to settle for an apartment in the city.  The art dealer was not finished. He continued – “But I’m interested in the frame of the painting. It is hand-made in Florence, 16th century, very rare and worth a fortune. I would estimate that it would bring more than a million pounds if put on the art market!” Bella and Alan were stunned. All of a sudden their fortunes had turned from disappointment to exhilaration. What they had thought to be worth a fortune was worth nothing but what they had thought to be worth nothing was worth a fortune!.