In 2004, Jenny Verastro knew that her end was near. As from her deathbed, she scrawled an illegible note onto a pad of paper and thrust it at her nephew, Carl Sabatino. In the note, she revealed a secret she had kept from every other member of the family all her life.
Then just days before she died, she reminded him of the message.
“Three days before she passed on, she told me, ‘Don’t forget, Carl, to look under the sewing machine,’” Sabatino told Daily News.
Sabatino thought she was bonkers. But he couldn’t ignore the fact that she had talked of a “treasure” and felt compelled to seek it out. While a treasure could mean a lot of different things to an elderly woman, he hoped it was the treasury kind of wealth. One such a pirate would hope to find.
Because the thing Jenny had spoken of was apparently in her Staten Island home, he took the ferry from Manhattan and prepared to find out if it was real or not.
He looked under the sewing machine, and his jaw hit the floor.
“As I moved the sewing machine, it came sliding right out into my lap. I was stunned,” he said. “I found it wrapped in newspaper.”
His aunt had owed a recreation of Pablo Picasso’s famed work “Woman with a Cape.” As a wealthy New Jersey broadcast executive, Sabatino believed that Picasso had painted this version years after the original.
Enamored with the piece, he did some digging. He found that his uncle and the husband of Jenny, Nicky Verastro, bought the painting from a London street vendor back in 1944. He spent only about $30 at the time and purchased it during World War II when the Nazis were trying to burn all the beautiful art of the world.
Now Sabatino thinks that the Picasso must have come from a gallery that had been bombed or looted. What else could explain the reason a street vender was peddling the masterpiece around London?
He even remembered seeing the painting at his aunt and uncle’s home when he was a child.
“My brother and I called it the lady with the fuzzy hat,” he said.
Sabatino believed the piece to be a true Picasso, but the experts at Christie’s in New York thought he was crazy.
“She examined it for about 30 seconds and literally flipped it back at me and said, ‘This is a $10 poster, don’t waste your time.’ I said, ‘Okay, but where did it come from in your opinion? It’s in color.’”
Because paint supplies during that time were hard to come by, Sabatino thought it indicated it was genuine.
“She gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look,” Sabatino explains. “She didn’t have an answer.”
Although the “expert” refused to listen to him, Sabatino took the piece of the Center for Art Material Analysis in Westmont, Illinois. Dr. Kenneth Smith tested it and found the piece to contain materials used in 1930s Europe. And then he found a partial thumbprint, which matched Picasso’s after being analyzed.
Art appraiser Richard Beau Lieu believes the piece is a genuine Picasso and says it could be worth $13 million.
“It’s terribly significant,” Beau Lieu told NBC 4 News. “I’m convinced this is the real deal. Wait and see. There’s always going to be skeptics. I’m convinced this is the real deal.”