if you have a lazy $170 mill....


Recommended Posts

 

Will a Long-Lost Caravaggio Sell for $170 Million?

Benjamin Sutton

Jun 14, 2019 12:20pm

image.thumb.jpeg.9c4234c335b7e36f0029cbdf21158790.jpeg

Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1607. Courtesy of Eric Turquin.

A painting discovered in a French family’s attic is believed to be a long-lost Caravaggio and could sell at auction for $170 million. That result for Judith and Holofernes (ca. 1607) would constitute a major coup for the family, as well as the auctioneer and dealer organizing the sale—or more than 1,100 times Caravaggio’s current auction record.

The painting, thought to be the Baroque master’s long-lost second version of the bloody biblical scene of Judith beheading Holofernes, is coming to auction with an astounding presale estimate between €100 million and €150 million ($113.2 million–$169.7 million). Such sums are rare enough in Christie’s and Sotheby’s high-stakes sales of modern and contemporary trophies in New York and London, but Judith and Holofernes will be offered on the evening of June 27th in Toulouse, France.

The work of art is being sold by the local family in whose attic it was found in 2014, through Toulouse-based auctioneer Marc Labarbe and Parisian Old Master dealer Eric Turquin. The rareness of this piece is also in the story of its discovery. It has been on a five-year cycle of cleaning, research, and analysis. The wondrous process has been documented with a 168-page catalogue, a dedicated website, and exhibitions of the piece in Milan, Paris, London, and New York.

“Once all this background work is done, the location of the sale is of little importance and has more to do with spectacle than strategy,” Labarbe said.

The sale itself may or may not turn into a historic spectacle, though the last Old Master work marketed as a rediscovered masterpiece and tagged with a nine-figure estimate—Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500)—certainly did. But no matter the outcome, the story of Judith and Holofernes is spectacular.

 

A hidden treasure in the attic

image.thumb.jpeg.7c70ca68c4500734264a37b1ce82d06e.jpeg

Detail of Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1607. Courtesy of Eric Turquin.

Judith and Holofernes could just as easily have been discovered a decade earlier, when its present owners—a family that has chosen to remain anonymous through this process, but has roots in Toulouse dating back to the 19th century—noticed their roof was leaking, and water was running into their attic. Nobody noticed the nearly 6-foot-wide painting the water had leaked onto, which was propped up against a wall behind some old mattresses and box springs.

The painting might also have been discovered two years later, when thieves ransacked the attic of valuables, but missed its biggest treasure. “If those thieves should ever read these lines,” Labarbe wrote in his catalogue introduction, “they can rest assured that no single eye, while preoccupied all at once by the crime, the darkness and the clutter, could have possibly noticed a painting by a master.”

Finally, the owners came across the massive, murky painting while clearing out the attic of their house, which has been in their family since 1871. They called in Labarbe, who in turn alerted Turquin; after three months of analysis by the dealer and his team in Paris, the verdict came back. Caravaggio. Since then, the painting has undergone cleaning and conservation to repair water damage and remove the varnish that blurred the composition’s crisp details. Caravaggio experts were brought in, so that by the time the discovery was made public in 2016, authorities—including the former director of the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Nicola Spinosa—had signed off on the Caravaggio attribution.

 

Cracking the Caravaggio case

image.thumb.jpeg.e55c23af742f4889a048492c1e511a77.jpeg

Installation view of Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1607. Photo by Eva Sakellarides. Courtesy of Eric Turquin.

Those who support the attribution to Caravaggio consider Judith and Holofernes to be Caravaggio’s long-lost second version of a subject he famously painted around 1599—the earlier work is housed in Barberini Palace in Rome. Caravaggio revisited the iconic subject when he was in Naples around 1607, following his exile from Rome for murdering Ranuccio Tomassoni. The existence of this second Judith and Holofernes is known from a copy of the work by the French artist and dealer Louis Finson , who lived in Naples at the beginning of the 17th century.

The lost Caravaggio is mentioned in a 1607 letter sent by a Flemish painter visiting Naples to his patron, the Duke of Mantua. In the letter, the painter notes that one of two bellissimi Caravaggio paintings for sale is a Judith and Holofernes on offer for a little under 300 ducats. The seller is thought to have been Finson. When Finson died a decade later, he left the unsold painting to fellow artist-dealer Abraham Vinck in his will. Then, Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofernes disappeared.

image.thumb.jpeg.00bf9d94a47bd734b580b23d4184b11d.jpeg

Detail of Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1607. Courtesy of Eric Turquin.

The big question is how the painting ended up in Toulouse. Finson is known to have passed through the city on business trips in the years before his death. The piece landed in France by the early 19th century. Its distinctly French stretcher is of a sort that was only used around that time, according to Claudio Falcucci, a scientist who analyzed the painting.

Some experts remain skeptical of the Caravaggio attribution. Italian art historian Mina Gregori has suggested that Judith and Holofernes could be a work by Artemisia Gentileschi . Gianni Papi, a Caravaggio expert at the University of Florence, considers it to be a second copy of Caravaggio’s original by Finson.

 

Caravaggio’s comeback

If the attribution to Caravaggio proves strong enough to entice buyers, the June 27th Judith and Holofernes sale will be an unprecedented test for the master’s market.

The current auction record for a Caravaggio is just $145,500, set in 1998 at a Sotheby’s sale of Old Master paintings. More recently, a Caravaggio considered to be his earliest surviving painting, Boy peeling a fruit (ca. 1592–93), was offered at Christie’s in 2015 with a presale estimate of $3 million to $5 million. Despite its purported art-historical significance, the painting failed to sell.

image.thumb.jpeg.70500beec744a5e94c2b2086950305f2.jpeg

 

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Boy peeling fruit, 1592-1593

"Beyond Caravaggio" at National Gallery, London

The short supply of sales data for Caravaggio is partially explained by the relative scarcity of his work. Of the art he produced before his death in 1610 at age 38, only 68 paintings are known to exist; of those, only five are still in private hands.

Another factor is that until the middle of the 20th century, nobody cared about Caravaggio. The art historian Roberto Longhi was instrumental in tracking down and championing his work, chronicling its enormous influence on the artists known as Caravaggisti, and turning him into an Old Master brand on the same level as Rubens or Rembrandt.

In fact, the recent pricing of Rembrandts was a determining factor for Labarbe and Turquin in coming up with the estimate for Judith and Holofernes. Turquin cited the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum’s joint acquisition, in 2015, of a pair of Rembrandt portraits for €160 million ($181 million), as well as the Amsterdam museum’s recent maneuvers to buy another Rembrandt for €165 million ($186.7 million). According to Turquin, there are about five times as many Rembrandt paintings in the world as there are paintings attributed to Caravaggio. “The estimate we’ve put forward is rather modest for an artist who is far more important and far more rare,” he said.

We’ll find out if collectors buy that assessment on June 27th.

Benjamin Sutton is Artsy’s Lead Editor, Art Market and New

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Still a nice find if you can  be so lucky ? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm. Doesn’t ‘feel’ like Caravaggio somehow. Doesn’t have the amazing immediacy and intimacy that, for example, the Boy Peeling Fruit has. There is huge financial interest in it being real though!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 minutes ago, RDB said:

Doesn’t have the amazing immediacy

It would be interesting to learn as to whether the old failed varnish layers have been removed as yet.  My missus is a paintings conservator and it's amazing to see how many tones lighter the painters original intention may be.   To me one of the standouts for Caravaggio is how stark the whites can be.   I think this will read much more accurately as a Caravaggio once the filter of all that yellow failed varnish is gone

Link to comment
Share on other sites

17 minutes ago, RDB said:

Hmm. Doesn’t ‘feel’ like Caravaggio somehow. Doesn’t have the amazing immediacy and intimacy that, for example, the Boy Peeling Fruit has. There is huge financial interest in it being real though!

i'm no expert at all, but when i saw the photos, which was before i had read anything, i was immediately thinking caravaggio. but i ain't the one spending $170 mill. and i really doubt the world's best could tell from a photo anyway. i'd have been just as convinced if they said it was a fake. 

i think they have done all the restoration and rehabilitation they can and the experts have given it the tick - at least that is how i read it. barring further evidence, i think that this will be attributed to caravaggio. 

understand the comment re the huge financial interest in it being real but i would suggest that you could take the opposite view. these days, the "experts" are so much more reluctant to certify a painting like this as genuine, whomsoever is the artist, as any hint they are wrong opens them up to massive legal action. ditto the agent and the auction house. my feeling is that today, there is no way anyone is saying it is a caravaggio or whatever unless they are absolutely 100% convinced and believe they have all the evidence to back it up. 

i saw a program which detailed how problematic this was becoming in the states (and no reason, not the same everywhere) as people with works with all the evidence in the world could not get them attributed to the relevant artist as the experts had become so lawyer-shy that they simply would not give an opinion. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

46 minutes ago, Ken Gargett said:

i think they have done all the restoration and rehabilitation they can and the experts have given it the tick - at least that is how i read it. barring further evidence, i think that this will be attributed to caravaggio. 

I too thing there is little doubt that it's a Caravaggio,   Just found this image, where it looks a hello of a lot less yellow,  must just be the musuem lux and lumen controlled lighting in the shot you posted. 

Cheers for posting Ken, Great topic

000_1HI2SX-640x400.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just now, 99call said:

I too thing there is little doubt that it's a Caravaggio,   Just found this image, where it looks a hello of a lot less yellow,  must just be the musuem lux and lumen controlled lighting in the shot you posted. 

Cheers for posting Ken, Great topic

000_1HI2SX-640x400.jpg

what a difference!

actually, fuzz contributed the photos. not that i am not grateful fuzz, but next time, lift your game. you've pulled a latrell! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My favourite of these is the last. The severed head (of Goliath) is widely thought to be a self portrait. The picture was sent by Caravaggio to Cesare Borgia to beg forgiveness (and a pardon) for murder...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

Community Software by Invision Power Services, Inc.