Pieter Brueghel’s “The People’s Lawyer” at the Drouot auction house in Paris (AP/Michel Euler)
One of the most important works of the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger, found behind a door in the living room of a house in northern France, stunned the art world. It was sold for 780,000 euros ($845,000) at auction in Paris. It was purchased by an anonymous Swiss buyer.
The 17th-century oil painting – which experts describe as “exceptional” and long considered a forgery by its owners – was discovered by chance last December while gathering dust in a family home.
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Art expert Stephane Pinta next to the painting “The People’s Lawyer” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (AP/Michel Euler)
The piece measures 112 cm. high and 184 cm. wide, and is the largest known composition of the painter. Entitled The Village Lawyer, it is dated between 1615 and 1617 and is an original Brueghel composition depicting a chaotic scene with villagers lining up at the lawyer’s offices, many bearing gifts including eggs and poultry.
“I came to a small living room that was not very well lit. I started making my estimates in the living room and, when I turned around behind the door, you could see two thirds of the painting,” explained Malo de Lussac, from the Daguerre Val de Loire auction house. “And that’s when I actually discovered the painting. It was a bit of a surprise.”
The family of the owners, who wish to remain anonymous, purchased the work in 1900 and had always affectionately called it “The Brueghel”, thinking it was a fake. It was ironic that such an important work was hidden from public view.
Visitors were able to see the painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger at the Drouot auction house in Paris (AP/Michel Euler)
“The family ancestors bought the painting as an original, but over the years the true story was completely lost orally… Perhaps the family was not necessarily interested in this painting,” de Lussac said. “Yes, they called it the Brueghel, but they had no idea it really was!”
The discovery “was the most important moment of my career. But of course I was prudent. After all, it’s pretty rare to find a Brueghel hanging in a TV room,” said de Lussac.
Born in Brussels in 1564, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the eldest son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, one of the most important figures of the Flemish Renaissance. Brueghel the Younger was famous for his lively depictions of village life, and sometimes known as “Brueghel of Hell” for his fantastic depictions of hellish and grotesque scenes. He painted landscapes, religious subjects, including various depictions of hell, village scenes, and flowers, but he was also a prolific copyist of his father’s most popular works.
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