Long-lost €6m painting found in elderly woman’s kitchen

Long-lost €6m painting found in elderly woman’s kitchen
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An early Renaissance masterpiece by Cimabue was discovered in a kitchen of a French apartment, where it was being discarded as trash during a house clearance had an auctioneer not spotted it.

Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo or Cenni di Pepi, was an Italian painter and designer of mosaics from Florence. Despite being heavily influenced by Byzantine models, Cimabue is generally considered as one of the first great Italian painters to break from the Italo-Byzantine style.

The work discovered was Christ Mocked, and it’s estimated to be worth €4m-€6m. It had been sitting unnoticed in the house of a woman in her 90’s near the French town of Compiègne. It hung in her kitchen and never generated any interest from her family or visitors, who assumed it was a standard religious icon. Only 11 works painted on wood have been attributed to Cimabue, none of them signed. This work is thought to have been part of a larger diptych dating back to 1280, when Cimabue painted eight scenes depicting Christ’s crucifixion.

Two scenes of the same diptych, known as The Virgin and Child with Two Angels and The Flagellation of Christ, hang in the National Gallery in London and the Frick Collection in New York. The work at the National Gallery had a similar discovery after being lost for centuries. A British aristocrat was clearing his ancestral home in Suffolk when he discovered the hanging and otherwise unnoticed work, which he then gifted to the nation in 2000.

Earlier this summer, when the woman decided to move and sell her home, an auctioneering expert in Senlis was contacted to look at what she owned in furniture and furnishings, in case some of it could be sold.

“I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it,” Philomène Wolf told Le Parisien. “I had to make room in my schedule … if I didn’t, then everything was due to go to the dump.”

Wolf said that she saw the painting as soon as she entered the house. “You rarely see something of such quality. I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn’t imagine it was a Cimabue.”

Wolf, who only started working at the auction house last year, told the woman to bring the painting to experts for an official evaluation. She thought the 20x24cm painting might be valued at around €300,000-€400,000. Experts from Paris were then contacted to assess the painting and evaluate its origin, leading them to authenticate and value it at millions. About 100 other items from the house were sold for around €6,000 and the remaining furniture were disposed at a local dump.

The woman and her family asked to remain anonymous but spoke to the auction house, telling them that the painting sat in their home for many years, thinking it was nothing more than a simple religious icon from Russia. The woman had no idea where it had come from and how she came to own it.

The painting from the kitchen will be sold by the Acteon auction house in Senlis on 27 October.