Mysterious Jackson Pollock painting—with hidden message to Lauren Bacall—found in Bulgaria art

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A previously unknown painting by Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock was seized during an anti-organised crime raid in Sofia, Bulgaria, officials said this week. The painting dates from 1949 and could be worth up to €50m, according to experts cited by Bulgarian National Radio. Authorities have not released a description or photograph of the work.

The painting was discovered during a joint operation between Bulgarian and Greek anti-organised crime forces coordinated by Europol, according to BNR. Sister raids also took place in Athens and on the island of Crete. Three Greek citizens and one Bulgarian citizen have been detained over the operation. Five additional paintings by what the BNR describes as “prominent artists” were discovered during the stings.

The alleged Pollock painting has been handed over to specialists from the National Art Gallery in Bulgaria, according to Bulgarian news agency Novinite. On the back of the canvas is a dedication to the American actress Lauren Bacall that appears to have been written by Pollock himself, Sofia’s deputy city prosecutor Desislava Petrova said during a press conference Wednesday (22 March), according to the BTA, the national Bulgarian News Agency.

“Dedicated to my very talented and dear friend Lauren Bacall, Happy Birthday,” the inscription on the back of the painting reportedly reads. The message is dated 16 September 1949, which was Bacall’s 25th birthday, prosecutors said. Bacall was a noted art collector, and items from her collection of art and jewellery sold for a collective $3.6m at Bonhams New York in 2015 after her death the year before. No Pollock paintings were included in the sale.

The prosecutor’s office said the painting has ever been catalogued and has not been registered as missing, according to the BTA.

The most valuable Pollock painting to ever sell at auction, Number 17, 1951 (1951), fetched $53m ($61.2m with fees) during the first of two court-ordered auctions of Linda and Harry Macklowe’s art collection in November 2021. Last May, Pollock’s Number 31 (1949)—completed the same year as the alleged Pollock found in Bulgaria—sold at Christie’s New York for $47m ($54.2m with fees).

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