Originally created 05/14/00

Origins of eBay painting remain a mystery



SAN FRANCISCO -- An amateur art collector has offered $135,805 for an abstract painting listed on eBay's online auction site. If it proves to be an original by the late Richard Diebenkorn, it could be a stunningly good investment.

If not, Robert Keereweer will have thrown his money away on a garage-sale knockoff originally offered for 25 cents on a Web site where the mantra is "buyer beware."

Keereweer, a software executive who lives near Amsterdam, Netherlands, placed the highest bid on the painting Monday and plans to fly to the United States in a couple of days to complete the transaction.

Works by Diebenkorn have sold for much more than Keereweer's bid. The record price for a Diebenkorn at auction was $3.9 million, bid in 1998 at Sotheby's for a painting titled "Horizon: Ocean Park."

Keereweer has not seen the painting yet and has mentally prepared himself for the possibility that the 1952 orange and green work is not an original.

"I'm not worried," he said. "It's part of taking the risk. If you buy a share of a company you don't know how it will perform. The biggest risk is doing it and trying to explain it to my wife. She thinks I'm nuts."

Keereweer said he sold some stock to pay for the painting.

He said he has experience collecting art but ran out of time for the hobby a few years ago when his first child was born. Someone told him about eBay about two months ago and since then he has bought other works, including a $3,850 Franz Kline oil painting and a $1,700 Rodchenko mixed-media piece.

Keereweer studied art history for five years in college and said he felt fairly confident that the painting was an original.

"It's a typical way of his painting; it's a typical subject; the colors were right," he said. "We'll find out in a few days whether this is the laughable thing of the century."

Diebenkorn's daughter, Berkeley resident Gretchen Grant, also hasn't seen the painting. She is cataloging all her father's work and said she is nearly done but is missing information on a few works that she knows were painted and sold. This is not one of them, she said.

"This doesn't match anything we have records for that we're missing," Grant said.

Kenneth Walton, a Sacramento lawyer whose eBay username is "golfpoorly," put the piece up for sale. He did not say who the 1952 orange and green painting was by, only that he had kept it in his garage.

"I got this big abstract art painting at a garage sale in Berkeley ... back in my bachelor days," he wrote. "Then I got married, and my wife has never let me keep it in the house. She says it looks like it was done by a nutcase."

Walton did not respond to e-mails and phone messages left Tuesday by The Associated Press, but told The Sacramento Bee he had made up the story about his wife and child, and actually has neither. He insisted the painting was not invented.

"I'm going nuts. I feel like this is getting out of control and everyone is blowing it out of proportion," he told the Bee. "I'm dreading this."

Walton also said that contrary to his earlier plan to turn the painting over to Keereweer soon, he would have it appraised before completing the sale. If it didn't turn out to be a Diebenkorn, the sale would not go through, Walton said.

The painting has a hole in it caused by a child's Big Wheel, Walton wrote in his online description of the painting.

Keereweer said the hole could be fixed easily and estimated that when fixed, it would be worth about $500,000 to $1 million. He was not sure if he would sell it.

Art experts said the photo shown on eBay shows some of the abstract expressionism techniques that Diebenkorn used in 1952. It also showed the signature "RD," the way Diebenkorn typically signed his work.

Diebenkorn, who died in 1993, switched styles twice but spent the last 25 years of his working life painting mostly lines and geometric forms in the brilliant colors that had become his trademark.