In 2014, Marc Labarbe, a Toulouse-based auctioneer known for having discovered a Chinese imperial scroll in 2011 that sold for €22 million, the highest price ever fetched at auction for an Imperial Chinese painting, received a call from one of his clients in Toulouse. While clearing out the attic, the client had discovered a painting belonging to his family. Labarbe quickly recognised it as an important 17th century Italian work.
He called on the art appraiser Eric Turquin, a renowned expert in Old Master paintings, who, together with his team, researched the painting for two years in the greatest secrecy. All the experts recognised it as a major work and while the research continued, the French Ministry of Culture classified it as a National Treasure, which prevented it from being taken out of the country for a period of 30 months. The deadline expired 24 December 2018, making it possible for the painting to circulate freely. The canvas has now been lightly cleaned and will be auctioned on 27 June 2019 in Toulouse.
The family that owns it has lived in Toulouse for decades and descends from a Napoleonic officer who participated in the Spanish campaign from 1808 to 1814. Forty years ago, the heirs sold another famous painting that dated from the Spanish Golden Age.
A few years before the discovery of the present painting, incompetent thieves stripped this same attic of a certain number of small objects while Judith and Holofernes, asleep under the eaves, luckily remained unnoticed.
The painting’s remarkable state of preservation, exceptional for a 400-year-old work, is an indication that it has probably passed through few hands since it was remounted around 1800.
The attic of the house in Toulouse where the painting was found (July 2016)