The public sale was scheduled for Thursday, 27 June at 18:00, Toulouse time. According to the Sale Conditions, anyone interested in acquiring the painting had to “register as a bidder at least 15 days before the sale.” As thierry Ehrmann explains, that meant that since 13 June at the very least, all the potential bidders were known to the sellers. And, as Julius Caesar would have said… the die is now thrown.
Because… no less than 48 hours before the public sale was due to take place, the sale has been cancelled! A private transaction has been concluded. “An offer that we had no choice but to communicate to the owners of the painting,” says the official statement which provides a very concise explanation: “The fact that the offer comes from a collector with close connections to a major museum convinced the sellers to accept it.”
This is undoubtedly a very happy ending for everyone involved, not to mention the sellers the art expert who discovered the work, Eric Turquin, and auctioneer Marc Labarbe. The undisclosed amount apparently readily confirms that the work is indeed an authentic Caravaggio, and the buyer, anonymous, but close enough to the world’s most prestigious museums, is apparently committed to ensuring painting will very soon be exhibited in one of the planet’s top museums. It could be any museum in the world… except the Louvre, which turned its back on the painting… “An attitude that, for me personally, was difficult to digest,” confessed Eric Turquin to the French magazine Le Point. The official statement says: “Purchased by a foreign collector, [the painting] will leave France.” Its ultimate destination was the sellers’ second biggest concern, after its sale price of course… Otherwise a deal would certainly have been struck directly with a major museum.
From the sellers’ point of view, this is the best possible outcome. In terms of transparency, it’s a total and singular reversal of the situation. The sellers promised a “authentic” public sale, i.e. a sale that was 100% public, with no reserve price and broadcast live on internet so that everyone and anyone could participate in the auction. The final price was going to allow the Market to decide on the painting’s authenticity… but the curtain has fallen even before it went up… and the amount of the transaction will remain forever confidential.
Last Monday, on 17 June, Sotheby’s announced its withdrawal from the public sphere. A week later, the most anticipated work of the year has suddenly done more or less the same. For Artprice, the two cases strongly suggest that the Art Market is seeking a certain discretion. In the sales catalogue, Eric Turquin thanked his collaborators: “I wish to thank my expert colleagues, the restorers, the framers, the bankers, the insurers, the photographers and the transporters, etc. who have scrupulously respected their professional confidentiality obligations and allowed us to work in a calm and collected manner.”
After five years of work, research and determination, “this painting will go to one of the best museums in the world. And for me that was essential,” concludes Eric Turquin.
Given the importance of this work in art historical terms, Artprice promises to track the reappearance of this painting – a painting that, as of today, no longer needs to be referred to as the “The Toulouse Caravaggio” – and to shed as much light as possible on this private sale, concluded just hours before an auction that had all the makings of a truly historic event. Artprice’s consistent and long-standing efforts to bring transparency to the Art Market are more than ever justified.