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The auctioneers had retrieved it from the attic; the surface of the painting was so dirty it looked as if it had been varnished with a mix of caramel and coal dust. Some of the paint was peeling off the canvas in an upper corner. The picture had almost certainly been moldering in the attic for decades: Its giant gilded frame was chipped and cracked and almost black with dust. Mud wasps had built nests between the elaborate curlicues of the frame.

I was just bored enough to look at the painting just long enough to realize that something about it was bothering me.

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