Millennium Post

Painting worth millions

In 2014, French auctioneer Marc Labarbe received a call from a friend that the attic of their Toulouse home had yielded a surprising discovery: a painting that looked to be something of value. He sent a photo to the art appraiser Eric Turquin, based in Paris. Five years later, Turquin sat in front of the painting in Colnaghi, a London gallery, as staff fretted over the lighting: The spotlights were reflecting off the varnish on the artwork, which stood five feet tall and six feet wide, obscuring its detail from certain angles. Turquin had identified it as a lost work of the Italian master Caravaggio: "Judith and Holofernes," believed to have been painted in 1607. A press conference announced Labarbe would auction it in Toulouse, where it would fetch up to $171 million. "This is the greatest painting I've ever found," said Turquin."It's very violent. But he's an artist who embodies the text, he makes the text living." According to him, the painting has a complicated history. Created after Caravaggio fled Rome, accused of murder, it reflects the marked shift in style that the artist developed while in exile in Naples. "Caravaggio was becoming darker, more sombre towards the end of his life." Four documents support its provenance: two 1607 letters to the Duke of Mantua, describing the painting; the 1617 will of art dealer and painter Louis Finson; and an inventory of the estate of Abraham Vinck, Finson's associate, carried out in Antwerp in 1619. "We don't know where it goes after 1689," Turquin said. There's also some more tangible evidence under the paint."A copier just reproduces exactly what's in front of him," Turquin said, "but a painter changes his mind as he's painting." The work's lofty valuation did not surprise Turquin. "There is a revival of the Old Masters, that is clear," he said, citing the 2017 Christie's sale of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" for $450.3 million including fees. Then there's the condition of the artwork, unusually well preserved for its age."Even people who don't agree with the attribution to Caravaggio agree with the quality of the painting," Turquin said."Many of the late paintings were damaged. People tried to clean them because they're dark." Both Turquin and Marc Labarbe said they would like to see "Judith and Holofernes" placed on public display."I would prefer it to go to a museum. I would like it to be known," Turquin said. "If you have a Caravaggio in your museum, you have the best," said Labarbe. Labarbe still marvels that the painting was discovered at all. "There are only 65 of his paintings in the world, and I found the 66th painting in an attic," he said."It's incredible but true."

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