Puttin’ on the Ritz

Avid readers of Waking the Dragon will know that Lunghu is a sucker for media stories about the miraculous discovery of long- lost art masterpieces. That’s because he’s always on the lookout for another juicy tale of art forgery, hoax and auction-house hype.  This time, maybe –just maybe– it’s the real deal.

A major renovation at Paris’s legendary Ritz hotel has resulted in the discovery of a painting thought to be the work of 17th-century artist Charles Le Brun that nobody knew was there.  The painting depicts the killing of Trojan princess Polyxena after she was implicated in the death of Achilles.  It adorned one of the suites in which Coco Chanel lived for more than 30 years but when exactly it was installed in the hotel remains a mystery.  The man who first [recognized] the painting [as a work of Le Brun] was Olivier Lefeuvre, a Christie’s France specialist in the Baroque period, who saw it [at the Ritz] in July.


The hotel archives offer no clue as to how the painting ended up there, according to Christie’s art advisor Joseph Friedman.  “A colleague then found the initials CLBF, which stand for Charles Le Brun Fecit (Le Brun did this) and a date, 1647.”  Christie’s embarked on a process of consultation with relevant experts and although they have not found any contemporary record of the painting, “no one is in any doubt that it is a genuine Le Brun,” according to Friedman.


Compare and contrast

The photo at top is Christie’s 2013 press release gallery display.  The lower photo was snapped by a tourist who spent a night in the Ritz’s Chanel suite in 2004.  Two observations:

  • Christie’s appears to have cleaned the painting quite a bit.  Note how much darker it appears in the 2004 photo.  There must have been a few dozen microns of Coco’s Gauloise nicotine coating the paint surface.  Or something.
  • Lunghu would like to see (much) earlier photos of the Chanel suite that depict the painting in situ.  Because his suspicious mind imagines that an unexpected “find” like this might be an excellent way to launder WWII Nazi art plunder –that is, if none of the victims’ inventories describe a painting such as this.  If the painting was hanging on Coco Chanel’s wall in the 1960s, all well and good.  If it showed up much later, when and why?

The giant tableau is to be sold by Christie’s [on April 15 2013] and could raise up to 500,000 euros ($665,000) for the foundation established by [Ritz] owner Mohamed Al Fayed in memory of his late son Dodi.


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