Christie’s is delighted to announce the discovery of a previously unknown oil masterpiece The Sacrifice of Polyxena created in 1647 by Louis XIV’s favoured artist Charles Le Brun, which will be on view in New York from 26 to 29 January ahead the sale of Old Masters and 19th Century Paintings at Christie’s Paris on 15 April 2013 (estimate: €300,000 – 500,000). Synonymous with an artist whose name evokes the kingdom of Louis XIV and Versailles, this painting was discovered in one of the most prestigious and luxurious venues in Paris, the Hôtel Ritz.
Occasionally, the biggest surprises are hiding in plain sight: A major discovery by one of the most important painters in the history of French art, The Sacrifice of Polyxena by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), was recognized only recently by the Ritz’s art adviser Joseph Friedman and his colleague Wanda Tymowska, and its attribution has been unanimously supported by leading French museums. However, it was not found in a dusty attic, but on prominent display in the heart of Paris, in the most opulent and celebrated hotel in the world, the legendary Hôtel Ritz. The Ritz archives have not revealed how the painting came to the hotel or when it was first installed in the fabled ‘Coco Chanel Suite’, but it is possible that it was already in the townhouse (built 1705) when it was acquired by César Ritz in 1898.
Monogrammed by the artist and dated 1647, The Sacrifice of Polyxena represents a turning point in Le Brun’s career. He had recently returned to Paris from a three-year sojourn in Rome, where he studied the paintings of Raphael and came under the influence of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), whose severe classicism marked a new chapter in European painting. The Sacrifice of Polyxena displays the profound impact of Poussin’s art on Le Brun’s style, as it shows the artist’s fidelity in reproducing the antiquities of Imperial Rome, evident in the details of the bronze vase, tripod and marble sarcophagus that ornament the scene, and the incense casket, which is taken from a drawing made by Le Brun in Rome after an Antique prototype.
Powerfully composed and brightly coloured with an unerring decorative sense that serves to heighten, rather than undermine the pathos of Polyxena’s tragedy, Le Brun’s painting amply demonstrates the extraordinary gifts of the artist in whom all artistic authority in France would soon be concentrated: Chancellor for Life of the Académie Royale, First Painter to the King, and mastermind behind the creation of the royal palace of Versailles.
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