Mystery Buyer Snaps Up Painting Attributed to Caravaggio Before Auction
But the Toulouse “Judith and Holofernes,” like the “Salvator Mundi,” has its expert supporters and disbelievers. Cataloged as being painted in Naples in about 1607, the painting was thought to have been Caravaggio’s second rendering of this gruesome Old Testament subject. The rediscovery was viewed by a number of key specialists in an exhibition at the Pinacoteca di Brera museum in Milan in 2016-17.
“At the time, I thought it was a good picture, with some very good passages, but also with some inexplicable weaknesses,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator and department head at the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, who saw the “Judith and Holofernes” in Milan.
Mr. Gasparotto said there is “some scholarly consensus” about the attribution, “but there are still several authoritative opponents.”
If this “Judith and Holofernes” is by Caravaggio, it would join a body of 68 accepted paintings, of which just five are in private hands. No authenticated works by the artist appear in the Artnet database of auction prices. An export license for the painting, valued by Mr. Turquin at €120 million, was refused by France’s Ministry of Culture in 2016, to give a French museum a chance to purchase the work, but no buyer was found and the export ban was lifted in December.
“The French said they didn’t have the money,” Mr. Turquin said. “They said they had doubts.”
But the Paris-based dealer said he was “thrilled” with the outcome of the sale. “The person who bought the picture is close to a great museum,” added Mr. Turquin, without naming the institution. “The vendors said they always wanted it to go to a museum.”
Mr. Gasparotto, the Getty curator, said that given the fate of the “Salvator Mundi,” an undisputed Caravaggio would fetch $150 million at auction, “or perhaps more.”
“The collector who bought it did a bold move,” said Mr. Gasparotto, “but only time and a more profound understanding of this passage of Caravaggio’s career will prove if this was a smart acquisition.”