‘Worthless’ Painting That Burglars Didn’t Steal Turns Out To Be US$170 Million

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One man’s trash is another museum’s US$170 million treasure, it

Some years back, a farmhouse attic in Toulouse, France, was broken
into. Burglars made away with a horde of knick-knacks, including
bottles of perfume, but ignored a painting because they thought it
was worthless.

Little did they know that the artwork they had left behind would
later be attributed to Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610)—famously
referred to as Caravaggio—who was the most notable Italian
painter of the baroque period.

The artwork, titled Judith and Holofernes, would also be estimated
to sell for £129 million (US$170 million) at an auction. Thus far,
Caravaggio only has 68 known works to his name.

For a century, the masterpiece—previously considered lost—sat
in anonymity among crockery, clothes, clocks, toys, and pieces of

Recounting how the painting was discovered, auctioneer Marc Labarbe
said at its unveiling at the Colnaghi gallery in London that one of
his clients was cleaning up his attic, and needed two other men to
help him. It would also take a year to sell all the antiquities
that lived in the attic.

“I have to tell you that a few years before [the call], burglars
broke into the attic and stole many things, including eau de parfum
bottles,” Labarbe added.

“Fortunately, our painting was not adequate,” he joked.

A second call on 23 April 2014 saw the client asking for Labarbe
for his opinion on a painting that he had found in his attic.

When he paid the client a visit, Labarbe saw that the artwork had
“a fog across the whole canvas… [It] was blurry and it was
almost impossible to see the details, but I was impressed by the
state of the composition,” he said.

Paris-based art appraiser Eric Turquin, who spent the last five
years studying the painting, is convinced that it belongs to
Caravaggio, and that it was painted in 1607.

“Look at the execution of the lips, the way the chin and eyelids
are painted,” Turquin said. “It belongs to Caravaggio. How
could it be by anyone else?”

The Judith and Holofernes piece is the second version that
Caravaggio created of the same subject, which was believed to be
painted around 1600 in Rome. It portrays the biblical tale of a
widow, Judith, who breaks the siege of the ancient town of Bethulia
by seducing the enemy’s leader and beheading him.

Judith and Holofernes can now be viewed at the Colnaghi gallery in
London until 9 March 2019, but will be relocated to the La Halle
aux Grains in Toulouse, where it will be placed on auction.

Labarbe explained, “This magnificent story [of its discovery]
began in Toulouse. It has to continue in Toulouse.”

Most artworks attributed to Caravaggio are hanging in churches in
Italy. Others sit in New York’s Metropolitan Museum, London’s
National Gallery, Paris’ Louvre, Madrid’s Prado, and Saint
Petersburg’s Hermitage.

Caravaggio lived until the age of 38, and passed on in 1610. He was
believed to have died of lead poisoning from his paint.

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While we prepare for this year’s edition of @tefaf_art_fair , our
gallery in London is currently hosting the exhibition of a recently
discovered painting of Judith and Holofernes, believed to be a
long-lost masterpiece by the Italian master Caravaggio (1571-1610).
. The canvas was discovered in an attic in France in 2014 by the
auctioneer Marc Labarbe who, together with the art appraisal firm
Cabinet Turquin, will offer the painting at auction in Toulouse on
27 June. It will be offered with no reserve, and an estimate of
€100 million to €150 million. . The painting is on view at
Colnaghi until 9th March (Saturdays and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm)

A post shared by
(@colnaghi1760) on Mar 1, 2019 at 9:27am PST

Evening Standard
The New York Times
, images via various sources]