September 16, 2005

Long-lost Titian portrait to be sold at auction

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - A unique portrait by Italian Old Master
Titian, painted over and rediscovered more than 400 years
later, is expected to make more than 5 million pounds (9
million dollars) when it is sold at auction in December.

Revealed by X-rays and painstakingly restored, Titian's
Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter was unfinished when the
Renaissance master died in 1576 and painted over with Tobias
and the Angel, probably by one of Titian's pupils, Leonardo

"It is a singularly beautiful picture. There is an intimacy
in the relationship between the mother and daughter. There is
no doubt about that," said Francis Russell, deputy chairman of
auction house Christie's at a pre-sale viewing on Friday.

"The fact that the picture was left unfinished means that
it would not have been considered of value at the time but it
also indicates that it was probably not a commission," he said.

The coats of paint that hid the original portrait preserved
it from the ravages of time, and the absence of varnish meant
that restorer Alec Cobbe knew he was approaching the original
when he reached a layer of grime that covered it.

The painting shows a young woman staring calmly but
resolutely out of the canvas with her left arm protectively
draped over the shoulder of a young girl who is gazing
reverentially upwards.

It is unique in that not only did Titian, whose real name
was Tiziano Vecellio, rarely paint women, he was previously
thought never to have painted a mother and daughter together.

There is no record of the work, probably painted in the
1550s when the elderly Titian was already the most famous and
sought-after painter in Italy, but it is believed to be of the
artist's own daughter Emelia and her daughter.

The first reference to Tobias and the Angel does not appear
until the mid 18th century when it is described as a Titian.

The painting changed hands several times -- forming part of
Czar Nicholas I's collection at one point -- before ending up
in the hands of renowned French dealer Rene Gimpel in the

When the German army invaded France in 1939, Gimpel shipped
his collection to London for safekeeping, but took the secret
of its temporary destination, a lock-up garage in the Bayswater
district, with him when he died in a concentration camp in

It took his sons Ernest and Jean until 1946 to find where
he had had the valuable collection stored.

In 1947 and again in 1963, Tobias and the Angel failed to
sell as a Titian at auctions by Sothebys and then Christie's.

Eventually Jean Gimpel sent the picture for X-ray by the
Courtauld Institute, which found the underlying composition.

After years of intermittent and painstaking restoration by
Cobbe, the purity of the original finally saw the light of day
as the centerpiece of an exhibition in Madrid in 2003.

The painting will go to auction for the first time in its
new, and original, guise in London on December 8.