More than six decades ago, during World War II, a painting of French King Henri III (1551–89) was stolen from the Louvre museum in Paris. Now after the lengthy period of time; the work will finally be returned to the museum, after a vigilant curator noticed that it was set to be auctioned in Paris – according to a report in The Art Newspaper.
Pierre-Gilles Girault, was the curator in question; an assistant curator at the Château Royal de Blois in the Loire Valley, where he received an email alert that the work was set to be sold at Drouot auction house Ader-Nordmann this past Friday, October 17. The assistant curator immediately recognised the small portrait – the work shows Henri III at prayer beneath Christ on the cross. The work is painted in oil on paper mounted on panel, the portrait dates to the end of the 16th century and is considered as an important piece of royal iconography. Contemporary images of Henri III are a rare thing. Instead of depicting court life, this image testifies to the Catholic king’s piety, with an historical relevancy as at a time when tensions in France were at their peak in the Wars of Religion.
Girault, had previously curated a 2010 exhibition focused on Henri III titled ‘Renaissance Celebrations and Crimes, the Court of Henri III’, and knew that the painting had formerly been in the collection of the Louvre in Paris, but that it had disappeared during the war, with little or no information about the whereabouts of the work since.
The assistant curator assumed that the painting, which was estimated at a mere £315 – £473 was a only a copy, but the Louvre identified it as the missing original after examining it. According to the report, the painting is “an important piece of royal iconography,” that focuses on the king’s piety as opposed to a scene from court life. The work was removed from the sale and will be returned to the Louvre.