Possible lost Caravaggio painting found in attic in France

2016-04-12 14:56

Paris – A 400-year-old painting that might have been executed by Italian master Caravaggio has been found in an attic in southern France.

Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, says it is in an exceptional state of conservation and estimates its value at $135m.

The picture, whose authenticity has not been established, had been left for more than 150 years in a property in the outskirts of Toulouse.

Called "Judith Beheading Holofernes," it depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general. It is thought to have been painted in Rome circa 1604-05.

(Julie Ducher, French expert specialized in old master paintings, talks to the media in Paris. Photo: Michel Euler, AP)

Turquin told a press conference on Tuesday that there "will never be a consensus" about the name of the artist.

Two Caravagio experts he consulted with attributed the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer who was familiar with Caravaggio, Turquin said. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and realised copies of his pictures.

"But the third expert I met told me that it was not only a Caravaggio, but also a masterpiece," Turquin said. "'Judith Beheading Holofernes' must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters."

The picture has been awarded "National Treasure" status by French authorities, meaning that it can't be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.

The owners of the house in Toulouse discovered the painting, which had been partially damaged by water, when they went to the attic to fix a leak.

They telephoned local auctioneer Marc Labarde. After using cotton wool and water to clean it, he recognised a 17th century painting from the Caravaggio school.

"I told the owners they had found a beautiful picture and gave them an estimation that I do not dare say," said Labarde, a close partner to Turquin. "Then I had it sent to Paris."

Turquin kept the picture away from the public's eyes for two years, cleaning it and submitting it to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays. Because of the painting's large size, some of the checks were made at a veterinary school.

"In between a horse and a cow, the radiologist was a bit surprised," Turquin joked. "Then she told us we brought her a stolen picture, because she thought it was actually the contemporary copy from Finson."

That copy is on exhibition in Naples and belongs to an Italian bank.

According to Turquin's team of experts, the two paintings were recorded in Finson's will made in Amsterdam in 1617. Then the original disappeared.

"I don't need further expertise, everybody agrees on the fact that it's one of the most important masterpieces from the 17th century to have emerged over the past 30 years," said Turquin, who has been watching over the painting. Since its delivery in Paris, he has been sleeping with the painting in his bedroom, as a security measure.

Read more on:    france

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