Caravaggio painting found in Toulouse attic sold to mystery foreign buyer

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Workers prepare to hang a painting entitled "Judith Beheading Holofernes", that might have been painted by Italian master Caravaggio (1571-1610), at the Drouot auction house in Paris, France, June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

A mystery foreign buyer has snapped up a painting by Italian master Caravaggio that was discovered five years ago in a Toulouse attic before it could be sold at auction, the auction house said on Tuesday.

The painting, which had been estimated at up to 150 million euros, dates from 1607 and depicts biblical heroine Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes.

“Judith and Holofernes” had been scheduled to be sold at an auction in Toulouse on June 27. It was found in 2014 by the owners of a house in Toulouse as they investigated a leak in their attic.

“The painting was sold privately to a foreign buyer,” the Marc Labarbe auction house and art expert Turquin said in a statement. “This sale is covered by a confidentiality agreement concerning the price and identity of the buyer.”

The auctioneers said the painting will leave French soil but will soon be on display in an unnamed “great museum”, which was a stipulation of the seller – that the public should continue to be able to see it.

“It went for a very good price,” Marc Labarbe told Reuters, declining to give the amount.

The painting, which had been kept in the attic “for at least 100 years”, has undergone exhaustive, and initially secret, analysis to establish its authenticity and is in surprisingly good condition, Turquin said earlier this year.

The painting is the second by Caravaggio to depict the decapitation of the drunken Holofernes by Judith. The first, dating from around 1600, is on display at the Barberini Palace in Rome.

So who bought it?

The Gazette Druout floats a new theory of the Judith and Holofernes sale that puts the Met’s Keith Christensen, a strong supporter of the attribution to Caravaggio, in the driver’s seat of the sale. With the French unconvinced the work is by the Italian master and the Met having lost the loan of the Wildenstein’s Lute Player in 2013, Christensen has a new project coming to fruition that could benefit greatly from a high profile work.

Here’s the Gazette’s report:

According to our sources, this lucky collector seems to be J. Tomilson Hill, who has close links with not only the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he sits on the Board of Trustees […] Now it seems likely that this Judith beheading Holofernes could be presented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new European Painting galleries, due to open in a few months’ time. This Old Master “skylights” project is one of the spearheads of Keith Christiansen’s policy. […] In January, the Gazette published an interview that took place in June 2017, when he told us he had never had any doubts as to the Caravaggio attribution. His desire to exhibit the painting at the Metropolitan Museum one day was an open secret. It just needed a collector who shared the same vision…

Source: CNA, reporting by Johanna Decorse in Toulouse, and Michaela Cabrera and Luke Baker in Paris; writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Gareth Jones and Catherine Evans; Artmarketmontor.com