PARIS – One of Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger's largest known works, whose discovery behind the television room door of a house in northern France amazed the art world, fetched 780,000 euros ($845,000) at auction in Paris Tuesday.
The 17th century oil painting — which experts call “exceptional” and was long considered a fake by its owners — was discovered by chance in December collecting dust. An expert conducting an estimation request spotted something poking out past a door of the dim family house.
“I arrived in a small television room which was not very well lit. I started making my estimates in the living room and turning around behind the door, there were two thirds of the painting visible,” Malo de Lussac of the auctioneers Daguerre Val de Loire, told The Associated Press. “And that’s when in fact I discovered the painting. It was a bit of a surprise.”
The family of the owners, who wished to remain anonymous, acquired the work in 1900, and had always called it affectionally ‘The Brueghel,’ thinking it was fake. It was an ironic twist in their family lore that a work of such importance had been hiding in plain view.
The painting is believed to have been painted between 1615 and 1617 and depicts one of Brueghel the Younger’s common themes “The Village Lawyer" — a bustling legal office in a rural community.
“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 said. “Yes, they called it the Brueghel, but they had no idea it actually was!”
The vibrant painting measures 112cm high and 184cm wide, and is one of Brueghel the Younger’s two biggest pieces.
The discovery “was the biggest moment of my career. But of course I was cautious. It is after all rather rare to find a Brueghel hanging in a television room,” de Lussac said.
Born in Brussels in 1564, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the eldest son of the Pieter Bruegel the Elder, among the most important figures of the Flemish Renaissance.
Brueghel the Younger was famed for his lively depictions of village life, and sometimes known as “Hell Brueghel” because of his fantastical depictions of infernal and grotesque scenes.
“The Village Lawyer” was purchased by an unnamed Swiss buyer.