Sculpture sold for just $34.99 at Texas Goodwill turns out to be priceless Roman bust

San Antonio Museum of Art.
·2 min read

A priceless work of Roman art went missing after World War II— until it was sold for $34.99 at a Goodwill store in Texas.

The marble bust, titled simply “Portrait of a man,” was sculpted some time in the 1st century B.C. or early A.D., according to the San Antonio Museum of Art, where it is on display as of May 4.

How it traveled 2,000 years and untold miles to a resale store in Austin is a mystery only partially unraveled.

Experts believe that the sculpture was looted from a German museum after WWII and taken home by a U.S. soldier, according to the SA Museum of Art. But what happened between then and it’s arrival at Goodwill decades later is anyone’s guess.

Laura Young, of Austin, found the marble man looking up at her from beneath a table at local Goodwill in 2018, dirty and disheveled, a yellow price tag on his cheek, she told The Art Newspaper. She bought the man, buckled him in the backseat and drove off.

After bringing the bust home, Young started to do a little research, Texas Public Radio reported. Soon realizing the marble man may be more valuable than he initially seemed, she reached out to an auction house in London, which confirmed the sculpture was likely ancient, and almost certainly looted.

It possibly depicts Drusus Germanicus, a respected Roman general.

It was last cataloged at the Pompejanum in Germany, the outlet reported. Modeled after a Pompeeian villa, the Pompejanum museum housed a great deal of art from all over Europe, but was caught in the crossfire between U.S. and Nazi forces in the waning days of the war — an easy target for any soldiers with opportunistic tendencies.

Young reached out to an attorney in New York, Leila Amineddoleh, who specializes in art, The Art Newspaper reported.

“US law doesn’t recognize the transfer of title when theft is involved,” Amineddoleh said. “I advised Laura not to sell it, either publicly or privately, that is, on the black market. She risked expensive legal battles or criminal penalties if she tried.”

Instead, they contacted German authorities, who were very interested in seeing the bust returned.

The Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes agreed to pay Young a finders fee, and to allow the San Antonio Museum of Art to display the bust temporarily, Amineddoleh told the outlet, adding that the last of the documents were finalized just days ago.

“What is very unusual is that most instances of looting were committed by the Nazis — it is estimated that 20% of all the art in Europe was looted by the Nazis,” Amineddoleh said. “However, this bust of Drusus Germanicus was most likely looted by a member of the Allied forces.”

The bust was revealed at the San Antonio Museum of Art on May 4, and will remain on display there until May 21, 2023.

Jewish man sold painting to Nazi art dealer. Now heirs sue Texas museum to get it back

Billionaire surrenders $70 million in stolen artifacts to 11 countries, officials say

He added fake autographs to paintings, then schemed with others to sell them, feds say

Holes were dug illegally at SC historic site, park says. What are culprits hunting?