Unknown French Masterpiece Discovered in Hotel Ritz, Paris

  • PARIS, France
  • /
  • January 23, 2013

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The Sacrifice of Polyxena. Greek mythology, Polyxena was the youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy. Achilles told her of his vulnerability – his heel – and was then killed by her brothers. His ghost demanded her sacrifice in order for the wind, needed to set sail back to Hellas, to be appeased. The subject is rare suggesting a specific commission for Le Brun, although the patron has yet to be identified.

A previously unrecorded painting by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), official painter to the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV, has been discovered hanging in the Coco Chanel Suite at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris by the London-based fine art consultant Joseph Friedman.  Formerly Curator of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s residence in Paris, Friedman was advising the hotel on its current €200 million renovation project when he came across the work.  The painting, thought to depict The Sacrifice of Polyxena, will be auctioned by Christie’s in Paris on 15 April 2013 and has a pre-sale estimate of €300,000-500,000.

Friedman said: “I literally took a step backwards when I saw the painting.  It was clearly the work of a major 17th-century French master.”  With his assistant, Wanda Tymowska, he set about examining the painting and Tymowska discovered an inscription ‘C.L.B.F.’, which they realised could stand for ‘Charles Le Brun Fecit’, with a date 1647, potentially making this one of the very earliest masterpieces by the artist.  A search of the literature on Le Brun revealed no mention of this painting, but this only increased Friedman’s excitement since it meant that he painting could not be a copy or re-working of some well-known composition but in all probability an original, which despite being in the hotel for decades, had somehow gone unnoticed.

The painting was then shown to Christie’s in Paris as well as the acknowledged experts on Le Brun in the French museum world.  All were amazed, pronouncing it to be a major, fully autograph work by Le Brun, a highly important new discovery and addition to his oeuvre and to the study of 17th-century French art in general.

The owner of the Hôtel Ritz feels that a painting of such extraordinary importance and value should not remain there when it re-opens in two years’ time and has therefore consigned it to auction with Christie’s. 

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), official painter to Louis XIV (the Sun King), was a leading French painter and designer in France in the 17th century.  He created a series of masterpieces of history and religious painting for such prominent political figures as Chancellor Pierre Séguier, Cardinal Richelieu, and Nicolas Fouquet.  Created Premier Peintre du Roi (First Painter to His Majesty) in 1662 with a pension of 12,000 livres, the following year he became director of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture.  His greatest work was at the royal palace of Versailles for the king who declared him “the greatest French artist of all time”.  Le Brun was involved from an early stage in the transformation of the palace, overseeing all aspects of the decoration from the sculptures in the park to two great suites of rooms for Louis XIV and his queen, Maria Theresa of Spain. 

The Le Brun painting in the Coco Chanel Suite at the Hotel Ritz, Paris.

Joseph Friedman is an independent fine art agent and consultant who advises on all aspects of the sale and acquisition of works of art, fine furniture and other cultural assets.  He was previously a Senior Director of Sotheby’s, Curator of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s house in Paris, adviser to the Foreign Office on the restoration of the British Embassy in Paris and consultant on the restoration of Spencer House for Lord Rothschild and Castle Coole for the National Trust.  Joseph Friedman Ltd operates across all major collecting areas and in all key areas of the market, and has handled a wide range of projects on behalf of private, corporate, and institutional clients both in the UK and abroad, including private treaty sales to the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland, the British Library, and Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.

Joseph Friedman is a founding partner of Historic Buildings Consultants, and has lectured and published widely.  His books include Spencer House. Chronicle of a Great London Mansion (Zwemmer, 1993); Inside London: Discovering London’s Period Interiors (Phaidon, 1988), and its sequels Inside Paris (1989), Inside New York (1992), and Inside Rome (1993); The Private World of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor [with Hugo Vickers] (1995); and the forthcoming Treasure Houses of London. Five Hundred Years of Private Artistic Patronage and Collecting (Yale University Press).  www.josephfriedmanltd.com



Christie’s Paris

Auction:            15 April 2013

Venue:              Christie’s Paris, 9 Avenue Matignon, 75008 Paris, France

Viewing:            X to Y April, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 6 pm


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