Le Brun, found in the Ritz, was bought by Met.  Text from wsj.com with Japanese translation.



April 19, 2013, 9:48 p.m. ET

Met Masterpiece Hid in Hotel





Imag: christies.com
Le sacrifice de Polyxène

For years, a painting by a revered 17th-century master was hidden in plain sight, hanging over a desk inside an opulent suite at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.


Now, the long-overlooked Charles Le Brun canvas—once stashed in storage with surplus furniture—will take its place at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which purchased it this week for $1.9 million.


How a painting that dates to 1647 landed in an otherwise unremarkable repository of hotel decorations is unclear. It was discovered during a renovation last summer by a pair of art advisers conducting an inventory during an ongoing renovation.


There it was, a work by one of the most important painters of French history—Le Brun was a darling of Louis XIV—mounted in a suite named for its most famous former resident, fashion designer Coco Chanel.


Image: arthistorynews.com

“When you go to a hotel like this, you see a lot of pictures that are bad copies or reproductions of well-known pictures,” said Olivier Lefeuvre, senior specialist in old-master paintings for Christie’s in Paris.


Mr. Lefeuvre was summoned to inspect the painting.


“I thought I was going to lose an afternoon to see a bad picture in a nice hotel,” he said.


Instead, he found an unmistakable masterpiece signed and dated by the artist. Even more surprising, the work had never before been documented and was unknown to art historians.


For now, Mr. Lefeuvre said, the work’s modern provenance goes back to only 1999, when a decorator plucked it from a storage space to hang in the suite.


How did it continue to escape detection, even while displayed in a high-profile hotel?


“No really famous expert of 17th-century painting has ever stayed in the Coco Chanel suite, apparently,” Mr. Lefeuvre said.


His first thought, after confirming the work’s authenticity, was that it should go to the Met. Most Le Bruns are in French museums and churches, rarely coming up for sale.


In fact, the museum had been looking to acquire a Le Brun for at least 50 years, said Xavier Salomon, a curator at the Met.


Mr. Salomon nervously watched an online broadcast of the April 15 auction as a Met representative in Paris did the bidding, knowing a win would fill a significant gap in the collection.


“We were very lucky,” he said.


Christie’s said proceeds from the sale will go to the Dodi Fayed International Charitable Foundation, established by the Ritz’s owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son was killed with Princess Diana in a 1997 car crash. Hotel officials couldn’t be reached on Friday.


The painting, titled “The Sacrifice of Polyxena,” depicts a story from Greek mythology involving the daughter of the king and queen of Troy. It was painted shortly after the artist’s return from a stay in Rome.


Mr. Salomon is now preparing to do his own sleuthing to discover where the painting spent the three centuries before it materialized in a hotel suite.


It is possible, he speculated, that the work was already in the 1705 building purchased by Cesar Ritz in 1898 to become his hotel.


The Met hopes to have it on view in time for the opening of a new gallery dedicated to 17th-century French paintings, set for May 23.


Putting in on display, Mr. Salomon said, might help catch the attention of a scholar determined to uncover its missing back story.


“A lot of artwork hides in plain sight,” he said. “They become almost like wallpaper.”



Charles Le Brun’s Rediscovered Masterpiece

Published on 4 Apr 2013 by christiesauctions