For years, a bronze sculpture of a naked woman with crossed legs sat right next to a Potomac, Md., family's gerbil cage. It "kind of freaked me out," recalls Elizabeth Tillson of the sculpture she found "creepy" as a child—one that turned out to be an authentic Rodin, a 14-inch version of his Despair (or Le Desespoir). Now she and her two siblings are selling it at auction, where it could fetch as much as $200,000 tomorrow, the Washington Post reports. Tillson's late grandfather somehow came into possession of the piece pre-1960. As NBC Washington reports, the siblings knew their parents believed the sculpture to be the real thing, but they never asked them where it came from; their mother is now dead and their father has dementia. A New York auction house last year said it couldn't authenticate the piece, and couldn't sell it for more than $2,500.
Among the authentication issues: The sculpture had no mark from the foundry that cast it, only one of Rodin's signatures instead of the usual two, no exact provenance, and the Musée Rodin in Paris has no record of it in its archives. But the siblings decided to get another opinion. Matthew Quinn at Quinn's Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va., decided to remove the stone block foundation the sculpture sat on—and on the bottom of the sculpture, he found a raised Rodin signature. Encouraged, he took it to the head of Comité Auguste Rodin, a Paris organization working on a comprehensive catalog of the artist's sculptures, and the expert knew "within 15 seconds" it was made by Rodin himself and cast while the artist was still alive, Quinn says. The raised signature sealed the deal, as it's "quite technically difficult" to make, says the expert, who found other proof the sculpture is authentic—and who just wishes the family knew where the piece came from.