An old painting once thought to be a fake by the owners hung behind a door, practically forgotten, for years until the keen eye of an expert came along.
Now, this long-ignored piece of art history has claimed the spotlight at a recent auction. It sold for 780,000 euros — that’s $845,000!
“The Village Lawyer” by painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger went up on the auction block in Paris on March 28 with a winning bid of $850,000. The winner was an anonymous buyer from Switzerland who now owns a once-lost piece of 17th-century art, according to the Associated Press.
The painting’s accidental discovery happened when a French family called in an auction appraiser to look at items inside their home. When the expert arrived, something unexpected caught his attention.
“I arrived in a small television room which was not very well lit,” Malo de Lussac, of the auction house Daguerre Val de Loire, told the Associated Press. “I started making my estimates in the living room and turning around behind the door, there were two-thirds of the painting visible. And that’s when in fact I discovered the painting. It was a bit of a surprise.”
It was likely an even bigger surprise to the family to learn the oil painting was real. Family members had no clue the painting was authentic but knew the artist of the original work. In fact, they called it “The Brueghel” but assumed it was fake.
“The family ancestors bought the painting as an original, but over the years, the real story was completely lost orally … Maybe the family was not necessarily interested in this painting,” de Lussac told AP. “Yes, they called it the Brueghel, but they had no idea it actually was!”
Here’s an image of the artist, as drawn by artist Anthony van Dyck.
The Art Newspaper reports that Brueghel the Younger copied the works of his father, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, though it’s unclear whether “The Village Lawyer” is a reproduction of a painting by the Elder.
Art experts believe this oil on canvas painting, which depicts a scene in a rural legal office, was created sometime between 1615 and 1617, according to AP. It is one of the larger examples of Brueghel the Younger’s work, The Art Newspaper notes, at 44 by 72.4 inches.