Ouch! The 'sleeper' bites back

November 10 2014

Image of Ouch! The 'sleeper' bites back

Pictures: Bonhams and Lyon & Turnbull

Regular readers may remember a 'Sleeper Alert' from late last year, when the above 'Circle of Francesco Albani' made £254,500 at a minor Bonhams auction in London. The estimate was £3,000-£5,000. The picture was an oil on copper, extremely dirty, and laid down onto a piece of panel.

At the time, sleuthing readers wrote in to note the similarity to the drawing below, by Annibale Carracci, in which Hercules is shown resting, and, crucially, with his hand in a different position to that seen in the painting. Was, then, the little oil on copper a variant or study by Carracci? Sleeper hunters love a 'pentimento', or evidence of a change (it makes a copy seem less likely). And the price seemed to suggest so.

However, what appears from the online images to be the exact same painting has now been consigned to a sale up here in Edinburgh, at Lyon & Turnbull, with an estimate of £2,000-£3,000 (below). The picture has been cleaned, and, alas, was evidently not what the buyer at Bonhams was hoping it might be. 

I should note that at the time of the Bonhams sale, a sharp-eyed reader wrote in to say this:

re. your Hercules item: a high price against a low estimate surely does not necessarily mean it's a sleeper.  In this particular instance I would call it "speccy alert".  As we all know, many of them just die a slow and painful death… 

So in this case it seems he was right.

However, it's very unusual to see something recycled so quickly. One normally struggles on for a few years or so, hoping scholars might eventually agree. Might the picture have turned out to even be the wrong period, in which case it's a non-starter?

Anyway, I bet the underbidder at Bonhams is feeling somewhat relieved...

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