True Masterpiece Hung in Family's TV Room as a Joke

400-year-old work by Pieter Bruegel the Younger surfaces, sells for $845K
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2023 8:06 AM CDT
Updated Apr 8, 2023 6:00 AM CDT
True Masterpiece Hung in Family's TV Room as a Joke
The newly-resurfaced painting by Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel) the Young is displayed at the Drouot auction house in Paris, Monday, March 27, 2023.   (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

An auctioneer was assessing the value of art and artifacts at a home in northern France last fall when a canvas caked in dust caught his eye. Partially concealed by a door in a darkened TV room, the painting looked to be a masterpiece but was in fact a fake, its owner told Malo de Lussac. Indeed, the man who directed the auctioneer's gaze to 19th-century paintings in the same room said it had become a family joke. But "my heart was beating so hard," De Lussac tells the Washington Post. Months after seeing the oil painting, which the auctioneer believed to have come from the 17th-century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Younger, his suspicions were confirmed, followed by the painting's sale for $845,000.

De Lussac immediately recognized the scene, depicting Flemish peasants presenting their wares to a Spanish tax collector. Bruegel, the son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, had reproduced it "up to 90 times," with one such version hanging in Paris' Louvre, per the Guardian. The painting in this dimly lit TV room seemed to be the largest of them all at 44 inches by 72.5 inches, per Artnet. But its owners, who said the painting had passed down to family members since its purchase in the late 1800s, were convinced it wasn't genuine. "They thought it was a copy; just a bit of decoration that wasn't worth very much," De Lussac says, per the Guardian. In reality, its authenticity had simply been lost to time.

An expert found the work to be a genuine Bruegel painted between 1615 and 1617, and one of the largest paintings attributed to the artist, per the Post. "It is one of those unique finds that happens once in a career," De Lussac tells the Guardian. "It's a very unusual painting in terms of size and the fact it is in exceptionally good condition." Accompanied by a new certificate of authenticity, "L'Avocat du village" or "The Village Lawyer," sold at auction in Paris last week to a buyer in Switzerland for the equivalent of $845,000, Artnet reports. Before it left northern France, however, its owners asked auctioneers to take their photo in front of what had become a punchline. (More Bruegel stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.