Visitors on Friday were given one last chance to admire a 400-year-old painting found in an attic in southern France and attributed to Italian master Caravaggio, or raise questions about the work, before it goes on the auction block.
Paris auction house Drouot invited visitors to see "Judith Beheading Holofernes" five years after it was found in a Toulouse home. It depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general. It's thought to have been painted in Rome around 1604-05.
Art expert Eric Turquin, who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it was found, unframed, by auctioneer Marc Labarbe while emptying a client's house.
He estimated its value at between 120 and 150 million euros ($140 and $175 million) — while acknowledging that experts disagree about its authenticity. The piece is being auctioned on June 27 in Toulouse.
"When we discovered the picture, when we discovered the attribution, we knew that as soon as we would pronounce the name of Caravaggio, there would be controversy," Turquin said in an interview. "We knew that because every single Caravaggio that was discovered since 1951, every single picture has been the object of a debate and fights."
Such controversy is "part of the artist," he added. "This is a non-consensus artist. If there were a consensus, it would be highly suspicious."
Two Caravaggio experts attributed the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer who was familiar with Caravaggio, Turquin said two years ago. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his picture. But, Turquin said at the time, the third expert told him it was, indeed, a Caravaggio and "also a masterpiece."
For Turquin, "the face of Judith is a signature."
"The energy that comes out of these eyes, the determination that you have in these dark eyes together with the sensuality of her shining lips, it can only belong to Caravaggio," he said Friday.
He also counseled colleagues to keep their eyes open.
"In France, we don't have garage sales ... People keep things. They stay in the same house for 100 years," he said, adding, "There are more to find. They should look harder."
Samuel Petrequin contributed.
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