An extremely rare artwork by French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour (1593–1652) has sold for a whopping €3.6 million (£3.2 million), €4.3 million with fees (£3.9 million) at Lempertz auction house in Cologne. Its sale on 8 December 2020 broke records, becoming the most expensive work ever sold at auction in Germany.
“A towering figure in the history of French art, Georges de La Tour’s work is unbelievably rare,” explainedAnthony Crichton-Stuart, the director of Agnews Gallery in London.
Dating between 1646 to 1648, ‘A Girl Blowing on a Brazier’ (La Fillette au braisier) is one of only 48 paintings attributed to La Tour. Although the artist enjoyed great fame during his lifetime, he was swiftly forgotten following his death. German art historian Hermann Voss (1884-1969) rediscovered La Tour in the early 20th century, by which point many of his works had been lost to the annuls of time.
Standing in profile, the girl in this painting is dramatically illuminated by the embers of a brazier. This piece is a prime example of La Tour’s late work, in which he reinterpreted the striking style of Caravaggio (1571-1610).
“The work does in fact elude description; every word seems superfluous, because although it is a genre piece, it is characterized by a contemplative silence, and an extraordinary sense of timelessness,” stated the Lempertz catalogue.
Hinrich Bischoff (1936-2005), the late German airline owner, was the last owner of the painting, having bought it from Christie’s London in 1975 for £17,850. ‘A Girl Blowing on a Brazier’ is now one of the final few works by Le Tour to remain in private hands, with the most recent selling at auction in 2008.
The widely exhibited painting also unusually bears La Tour’s signature and is the last nocturne scene by the artist to be privately owned. It is not without problems though, as Crichton-Stuart explained: “the physical condition of de la Tour’s paintings is often challenging… [‘A Girl Blowing on a Brazier’]looks like it too may have some condition issues.”
Le Tour’s painting was auctioned alongside 22 other artworks from the Bischoff collection. The sale set another new artist record as well, selling ‘Mary in Prayer’ by Quinten Massys (1466-1530) for €1.3 million (£1.2 million), €1.6 million with fees (£1.4 million). Despite the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, collectors are clearly continuing to place their confidence in regional auctioneers.