“ There are two years old, I was called on the phone to my study to see an array imposing accidentally discovered in an attic. The painting had been released from a loft attic “said Marc Labarbe, auctioneer in Toulouse.
“ I first noticed it was damaged on the right side by a previous water leak. There was a lot of dust. I asked for a piece of cotton lightly moistened and I passed on the face of the servant I guessed as dirt , “he adds.
Marc Labarbe discovers, little by little, the scene: Judith Beheading Holofernes, a popular biblical episode at the time of Caravaggio.
“ The work remained hidden perhaps for his particularly violent composition, not obvious to a living room or bedroom. The family is not aristocratic. Although not easy, it does is not in need “, says Mr. Labarbe.
The family occupied the house from the mid-nineteenth century, knew nothing of this table “ that have been reported in Spain by an ancestor of the Napoleonic army officer but also be deposited into this attic before . ”
The auctioneer is quick to contact a friend expert, Eric Turquin, and address him pictures of the table that will be estimated 120 million euros. French buyers are already in the running.
– ‘A wonder’ –
“ It reminded me very quickly to me saying, + You found a beautiful picture, it is a wonder! “, if he remembers.
It remained to authenticate the work, which looks suspiciously like a canvas on the same theme, known as a copy of a lost painting by Caravaggio and now exhibited in Naples, Italy.
Expert recognized worldwide by the Italian master he organized several retrospectives, Nicola Spinosa formally recognizes the table. “ Yes, I say it is an authentic Caravaggio, because I saw the table several times ” since its discovery, he told AFP.
“ It is of exceptional quality and is the greatest period of the painter, around 1605, when he succeeded best to translate into painting the drama of men. It is the Judith and Holofernes with it as he did also with Death of the Virgin, in the Louvre, or the Seven works of Mercy, who in Naples , “said Nicola Spinosa.
According to the expert, who said he saw three times last year, the painting was in the hands of several experts including Keith Christiansen, chairman of the department of European paintings at the Metropolitan . And all are affirmative: it is indeed an original.
However conviction tempered by other connoisseurs of the painter’s work, some attribute the table Louis Finson, Flemish painter (1580-1617), a contemporary of Caravaggio.
The identification of a Caravaggio painting is more difficult that the artist did not sign his works and was often copied.
Facing the risk of an authentic Caravaggio leave French territory, the Ministry of Culture refused the export certificate as a precaution, pending its formal expertise.
For the ministry, which did look through the Louvre for three weeks, canvas deserved “ retained the territory as a very important milestone of Caravaggio, whose course and allocation remain to deepen . ”
This is not the first time that important work is discovered by chance. In 2013, a table ignored the Dutch master Van Gogh slept for years in the attic of a collector, convinced that it was a fake.
“ All antique dealers and auctioneers commissioner know: there are still many hidden treasures ,” said Eric Turquin.
“ France has long had a love for the works of art, accumulated for centuries. This discovery is good news for the history of art! ”