An auction house appraiser found a 17th-century painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger behind a door in a northern French home. “The Village Lawyer” (1615-1617) depicts peasants in a greedy lawyer’s office, a scene Brueghel painted dozens of times. The work has been authenticated and it’s heading to an auction in Paris on March 28.
The appraiser, Malo de Lussac, told Hyperallergic he was “very surprised” when he found the painting. The family who owned the work always referred to it as “the Brueghel,” but thought it was a copy. (The painting’s provenance before the family acquired it in 1900 is unknown.)
“I immediately had a very good feeling about this painting,” said de Lussac. “But I preferred to be very careful about its authentication.”
Stéphane Pinta, an expert at the Paris-based firm Cabinet Turquin, examined the painting with the help of a conservator at the Louvre. The team later presented the work to Flemish Old Master specialist and Brueghel historian Klaus Ertz, who confirmed that it was real.
The work turned out to be not just a Brueghel original but a rare work by the artist.
“It’s a huge painting,” de Lussac said. At over three and a half by six feet, it’s reportedly one of the largest of Brueghel the Younger’s known works and is also in “exceptionally good condition.” Daguerre Val de Loire estimates that it will sell for €600,000 to €800,000 (~$638,328–851,104).
Pieter Brueghel the Younger is the son of the arguably better-known artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who painted masterpieces including “Hunters in the Snow” (1565) and “The Harvesters” (1565) as well as satirical works such as “Netherlandish Proverbs” (1559). Bruegel the Elder was a leading figure in the Northern Renaissance, but his son made a name for himself as well. While much of Brueghel the Younger’s body of work consists of well-executed replicas of his father’s paintings, the artist also created original compositions depicting the rowdiness and vulgarity (and excessive drunkenness) of 17th-century Flemish peasant life while interrogating larger social structures.
“The Village Lawyer” offers a prime example of the artist’s biting social commentary. Brueghel has taken a more sympathetic approach to his peasant subjects and paints the money-hungry lawyer as the clear villain. The well-dressed man wears a condescending facial expression as he sits behind his desk. According to de Lussac, the lawyer is collecting taxes from the village’s farmers. As the desperate townspeople wait, the lawyer hides behind what can only be assumed to be useless stacks of paperwork, literally creating a barrier between himself and the poorer people paying him.
“It’s a critique of the Spanish occupation on the Flemish land,” de Lussac said. He pointed out that they lawyer has a “Habsburg face.” Characterized by a protruding jawline, the distinctive appearance was repeatedly depicted in portraits of Spanish royals.
Brueghel painted a nearly identical version of “The Village Lawyer” that hangs at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in Belgium, and another almost identical copy is located at the Louvre in Paris, but the museum thinks that work is a follower’s copy.
The newly discovered painting will be exhibited at Paris’s Hôtel Drouot from March 11 through March 17 before it hits the auction block.
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.
Ten Painful Stories of the Dutch Colonial Slave Trade
The Rijksmuseum’s traveling show strives to remind us that we are all, in some way, a part of this chapter of human history, whose legacy continues today.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Textured Histories at Shiprock Santa Fe
The Santa Fe gallery features Indigenous textiles and jewelry from the early 19th century to today.
Renaissance Portrait of “Ugly Duchess” Likely Depicts a Man
A curator at London’s National Gallery believes the subject of painter Quinten Massys’s painting “is most likely a he.”
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Hokusai’s “Great Wave” Makes a Splash at Auction
An edition of the iconic woodblock print broke records when it sold for $2.8M this week.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Back With an Inflatable Dolphin
Episode four, in which artists tackled themes of justice and injustice, was the most lifeless of the reality TV show so far.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture
Parents complained that the famous sculpture was shown to their sixth graders.
Tickets to Sold-Out Vermeer Show Are Going for Hundreds
The online resale market for the Rijksmuseum’s smash exhibition is booming, with tickets selling on eBay for over $2K.
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?