The “Toulouse Caravaggio” on show in London

[28 Feb 2019]

If I could have chosen to discover just one work among all those that have been lost in history… I would have chosen this one, without hesitation”. Such is the conviction and fascination of art expert Eric Turquin for the painting known as the “Toulouse Caravaggio” he has been entrusted to sell by auctioneer Marc Labarbe.

thierry Ehrmann: “After five years of research, analysis and polemics, the two men have announced that the owners are happy to let the Art Market decide the value of this exceptional and extraordinarily powerful work for which the French State has finally granted an export visa”.


Michelangelo Merisi , known as Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Judith and Holopherne (c.1604 – 1605)

This Thursday 28 February at the Colnaghi Gallery in London, against the backdrop of London first prestige sales of the year, Eric Turquin and Marc Labarbe confirmed at a press conference that the Judith and Holofernes painting will be auctioned on 27 June 2019.

However the location of its sale is the biggest surprise… not London, not New York, not even in Paris… but rather where it all began… in the south-west of France where it was found, by chance, in the attic of a house near Toulouse, in 2014. Moreover, the painting’s owners have re-confirmed that the Toulouse auctioneer they originally contacted – Marc Labarbe, who first recognized the exceptional qualities of the work – will be responsible for orchestrating the sale of this extraordinary painting.

The stakes are high indeed… not only for all art lovers around the world who enjoy a good story and the thrill of market surprises, but also and particularly for the French Art Market. Thirty years after the historic Parisian sale of Pablo Picasso’s Noces de Pierrette (1905), an auction organized on French soil could once again rock the global Art Market.

A museum-quality work

As revealed by Artprice in January, the sellers have opted for an extremely original sales strategy via which they hope to elicit the kind of interest required to sell such a masterpiece.

The work is indeed exceptional in many respects. Its subject (a biblical decapitation), its age (more than 400 years old), its discovery (in an attic in the South of France) and especially its attribution to Caravaggio and the piercing power of Judith’s look, all give this painting a very special place in History and on the Art Market.

Only 68 works by Caravaggio are known to date, scattered throughout the Western world. Many have remained in Italy, hanging in the most beautiful churches of Rome, Naples and Sicily, while the others contribute to the notoriety of some of the world’s most prestigious European and American institutions: London’s National Gallery, New York’s Metropolitan Museum and the Paris Louvre each have three, while Madrid’s Prado and Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage each have a single painting by Caravaggio.

Acquiring this latest discovery probably appeals to all of the world’s major museums. However, few of them can afford it. The current estimate for the work is somewhere between between €100 and €150 million; but, the annual acquisition budget of the Louvre Museum (the world’s leading museum by visitor number) is still under €20 million. Likewise, lots of Japanese, English and Russian museums – who would love to own this newly discovered masterpiece – are unlikely to be in the running to acquire it.

Unless a State decides to make an exceptional grant, public museums will have to give way to major private collectors. In recent years Western, Asian and Middle Eastern billionaires have snapped up all the best works auctioned. Their immense financial power seems limitless when it comes to investing in the last remaining jewels of Art History in circulation.

Auction results above $100 million

  Artist Artwork Price Sale
1 Leonardo DA VINCI (1452-1519) Salvator Mundi (c.1500) $450,312,500 11/15/2017 Christie’s – New York
2 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955) $179 365 000 05/11/2015 Christie’s – New York
3 Amedeo MODIGLIANI (1884-1920) Nu couché (1917-18) $170 405 000 11/09/2015 Christie’s – New York
4 Amedeo MODIGLIANI (1884-1920) Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917) $157 159 000 05/14/2018 Sotheby’s – New York
5 Francis BACON (1909-1992) Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) $142 405 000 11/12/2013 Christie’s – New York
6 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) L’homme au doigt (1947) $141 285 000 05/11/2015 Christie’s – New York
7 QI Baishi (1864-1957) Screens of landscapes (1925) $140 954 580 12/17/2017 Poly -Beijing
8 Edvard MUNCH (1863-1944) The scream (1895) $119 922 500 05/02/2012 Sotheby’s – New York
9 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) Fillette la corbeille fleurie (1905) $115 000 000 05/08/2018 Christie’s – New York
10 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) Untitled (1982) $110 487 500 05/18/2017 Sotheby’s – New York
11 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) $106 482 500 05/04/2010 Christie’s – New York
12 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) Silver Car Crash (1963) $105 445 000 11/13/2013 Sotheby’s – New York
13 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) Garçon à la pipe (1905) $104 168 000 05/05/2004 Sotheby’s – New York
14 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) L’homme qui marche I (1960) $103 689 994 02/03/2010 Sotheby’s – London
15 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) Chariot (1950) $100 965 000 11/04/2014 Sotheby’s – New York © 2019

To date, only fifteen works have publicly sold above the $100 million threshold. All of these were hammered in the three major capitals of the Art Market, organised by the three most powerful auction houses on the planet. However, today, with globalisation having so radically changed the global art market, this operating system could well be completely obsolete.

Having remained locked up Eric Turquin’s Paris offices for many years, the Toulouse Caravaggio has finally received its export visa and has began a world tour. Currently in London, the work will then be taken to New York to steal the spotlight during the prestige sales in May, before returning to Toulouse to be put on sale.

According to Artprice’s CEO / Founder, thierry Ehrmann, “when everyone has seen Judith decapitating Holofernes and has experienced the extraordinary power of this painting, the location of the sale will not matter much. Whether sold in Toulouse or New York, Caravaggio will go to the highest bidder. In any case, the painting will certainly not remain in Toulouse, nor in France.

The work’s owners want an ‘authentic’ sale, giving the Market the final word… without trying to control it. It’s a way of doing things that we have almost forgotten, and yet it is the veritable purpose of public sales. This confidence in the market can only be rewarded.”