"I just thought it was a cool painting," David Van Auker tells the Arizona Republic.
He has good taste. It turns out the painting—which he purchased at a New Mexico estate sale—is a Willem de Kooning that was stolen 31 years ago from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson and could be worth an eye-popping sum.
Van Auker planned to sell much of the estate's art in his Silver City antiques shop, but the 30- by 40-inch canvas he intended to put in his guest house. As it temporarily sat in his store, customers started asking him if it was a "real" de Kooning. A web search tipped him off to the unsolved 1985 heist of "Women-Ochre," part of the "Women" series de Kooning painted in the early 1950s. Another painting from the series sold for $137.5 million—a decade ago.