A long-lost masterpiece by Antonio Canova (1757-1822), found in 2002 when it was sold at a garden centre auction for £5,200, is now worth between a staggering £5 million and £8million. 200 years a after its completion, the sculpture will be put up for auction again this summer at Christie’s.
“This work has been searched for by scholars for decades, so the discovery is of fundamental importance for the history of collecting and the history of art,” explained Mario Guderzo, former director of the Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova.
Maddalena Giacente (Recumbent Magdalene) was one of the last marble sculptures executed by the great Italian sculptor Canova before his death in 1822. The marble sculpture depicts Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus Christ in the gospels, in a state of ecstasy.
Irish writer and poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852), was a great admirer of Canova’s piece, writing “the expression of her face, and the beauty of her figure … are perfection.”
Former British prime minister, Lord Liverpool (1770-1828), commissioned the sculpture in 1819. Following Liverpool’s death, it was passed to his brother, after which it was bought at Christie’s in 1852 by Lord Ward (1817-1885), later the Earl of Dudley. It remained in his family until 1920, when the attribution to Canova fell out of favour.
Twenty years ago, the Recumbent Magdalene was bought by a British couple to display in their garden. The anonymous pair suspected their garden ornament might be something special and contacted Francis Outred, an art adviser, who was able to uncover the sculpture’s hidden past. Despite languishing outside for many years, the piece remained in otherwise “very good” condition according to the report made by Outred’s team.
This July, it will headline Christie’s Classic Week sales in London before touring New York (8-13 April) and Hong Kong (27 May-1 June).
Reflecting on the sculpture’s fascinating rediscovery, Donald Johnston, Christie’s international head of sculpture, said that said that it was “a highlight within my 30-plus-year career in the field”.