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Maybe a rare image by French artist Jean Dufy. Maybe not. An auction in Tacoma will set the price.

C’est (maybe) magnifique.

During a recent weekend, an anonymous donor left a framed watercolor at an Olympia Goodwill collection station.

Bearing the signature of French post-impressionist artist Jean Dufy, the image depicts a scene along the River Seine — a scene similar to an oil painting contained in Dufy’s catalogue raisonne titled “Le pont du Carrousel.”

So begins a mystery that continues today.

Was this an original watercolor, or a print, or a forgery of some kind? Was it by Dufy? How should it be listed on Goodwill’s online auction site shopgoodwill.com?

And what is it worth?

“This could be important. We need to get it right,” Goodwill online curator Dylan Lippert said.

Lippert contacted Mary Sudar, a Tacoma-based accredited senior appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers.

Sudar’s first thought: “It looks to be an original watercolor.”

To test her initial opinion, Sudar contacted Jacques Bailly, the Paris art dealer and Dufy expert who compiled the catalogue. She sent images of the Goodwill watercolor, if that’s what it was.

C’est (still maybe) magnifique.

Bailly noted that if the artwork was a copy, then there would be certain small and nearly hidden places to look within the image. And, mais oui, there they were.

So it is a copy of an original painting, most likely done using a technique known as “pouchoir.”

The original would be worth in the neighborhood of $30,000.

But the original has been lost, Bailly said.

“He indicated that it is a copy of a painting that did exist at some time, or still exists,” Sudar told Lippert in an email Friday.

The whereabouts of the original painting are unknown, and the Goodwill copy is only the second copy known.

“The original watercolor upon which this work was based may have been recorded in the artist’s own archives or some other source, but M. Bailly stated that it did exist at some point,” Sudar wrote.

“This is a rare copy in the sense that we found only one example of it after searching,” she said.

“It’s not often that we get something that could be this dramatic,” Lippert said.

“Once it becomes known that the original is lost, this could be interesting,” Goodwill spokesman George White said.

An online sale could help establish the value of this and other rare copies of Dufy’s work.

It will also help fund the job training and placement services that Goodwill provides.

And so: It is a copy by an unknown hand. It is a copy of a Dufy painting, the whereabouts of which are unknown. It will be listed at shopgoodwill.com within the next several weeks, after further research.

But what is it worth?

That’s what auctions are for. At this point, no one wishes to speculate on value.

But consider last Thursday’s Department of Revenue auction of goods collected from abandoned safe-deposit boxes in the state.

One item was listed as a possible sketchbook by Pablo Picasso.

A possible sketchbook. Maybe a sketchbook.

The gavel went down at $112,500.

Which was très magnifique indeed.

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