What's in a gnome? About pounds 1m

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The Independent Online
This was just another garden gnome ... until its owner discovered art history.

Covered in white paint and moss, the 4ft-high marble statue of Cupid stood at the bottom of a West Country garden for years. It has now been identified as by Canova, the neo- classical sculptor responsible for the Three Graces, and experts said yesterday that it should fetch more than pounds 1m at auction.

If you cannot find your fortune in the garden, try the cellar. As we reveal on page 5 today, an Oxford student opened the basement of a college house to find a mouldering collection of some of the finest names in post- war art. That is also worth pounds 1m.

Still no luck? Maybe the sitting room. Last week a piece of paper was pulled out from under a sofa in a Suffolk house. It contained notes for a speech by a man named Washington; first name George. It is expected to fetch pounds 150,000 at auction.

Spring-cleaning has never been so lucrative. What is going on? Is no corner of house or garden free from art treasures?

Psychologically, the urge to ferret in the attic or under garden bushes is a seasonal one, and householders tend to come on heat whenever a series of The Antiques Roadshow is on television, as it is at the moment.

But David Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund, believes that there are practical reasons too. "The art market is beginning to pick up after the slump of the Eighties," he said, "and people may well have been sitting on treasures [literally, in the case of the Washington manuscript] which they are now putting on the market.

"The National Lottery has put art more into the news, and museums and galleries are buying more works of art, so people might be looking harder. And there is an enormous amount of art out there in private hands which changes in fashion can make valuable. Posters are now much sought after."

So best check the walls, too.