A painting by a 19th-century French artist is set to fetch up to £120,000 when it goes up for auction in London – two decades after it was bought for £3,800 in New York.
The work by Jean-Léon Gérôme, entitled ‘At Prayer’, was authenticated following an investigation by the BBC’s Fake or Fortune team which aired over the summer.
It was bought by Los Angeles-artist Jon Swihart in 1999 at an auction in New York for $6,325 (then worth about £3,800), catalogued as ‘Circle of Jean-Léon Gérôme’.
Mr Swihart was sure the painting could be a work by the actual artist – and enlisted the help of presenter Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mould to help confirm this.
During the programme on August 4, Mould pointed out to Mr Swihart that his painting would have only been worth about £1,000 if it was not actually by the artist.
Art historian Emily Weeks, who is an acknowledged expert on the works of Gérôme, carried out a critical re-appraisal on the show and was able to authenticate the work.
The work by Jean-Léon Gérôme, entitled ‘At Prayer’, was authenticated by Fake or Fortune
Fake of Fortune presenter Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mould with ‘At Prayer’ in the middle
This was despite it having been deemed a collaborative work in the 1980s by Gerald Ackerman, an the art historian and leading Gérôme expert who died in 2016 aged 87.
During the investigation for the BBC show, Bruce visited Sotheby’s in London to speak with Claude Piening, a senior specialist of Orientalist art.
The painting was made shortly after Gérôme’s first trip to Egypt in 1856, and gives a depiction of Muslim prayer and an insight into the artist’s working methods.
A key piece of evidence was a pencil sketch by Gérôme held by the Cooper Art Gallery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, of a robed and turbaned man.
Another was the location of the pulpit or minbar which was identified as that of Qaytbay in the Northern Cemetery of Cairo, where Gérôme would have visited.
The painting was bought by Los Angeles-artist Jon Swihart, pictured with his wife Kim, in 1999
Experts also noted the position of the worshipper praying away from the minbar, and therefore Mecca, rather than towards it – something Gérôme was known for.
Gérôme was said to have done this because he wanted to show people the intensity of the worshipper’s expression while also including the ornately-carved pulpit.
Now, following the outcome, Sotheby’s will offer the picture – painted in 1858 – as a lead highlight in ‘The Orientalist Sale’ and it is open for bidding from October 20.
The painting has an estimate of £80,000 to £120,000 and now joins the ranks of the earliest pictures by Gérôme, who was born in May 1824 and died in January 1904.
Mr Piening said: ‘I love the immediacy of this painting, executed as it was not long after Gérôme’s first trip to Egypt in 1856 and his impressions of his travels were still fresh in his mind – the viewer truly feels transported to another place and culture.
The model for At Prayer can be found in an 1857 work by Gérôme in the same sale, called Prayer in the House of the Arnaut Chief (pictured), which has an estimate of up to £150,000
‘It is small work, but has tremendous impact – seeing the figure from the front really conveys the deep communion between the worshipper and God.
‘That this work has been rightfully re-instated into Gérôme’s oeuvre is testament to its exceptional quality.’
The model for At Prayer can be found in an 1857 work by Gérôme in the same sale, called Prayer in the House of the Arnaut Chief, with an estimate of up to £150,000.
In 2019, Sotheby’s set the auction record for the artist with Riders Crossing the Desert, which sold for £2.6million, or £3.1million including the buyer’s premium.
At Prayer will be offered as part of The Orientalist Sale at Sotheby’s in London which begins on October 20 and closes on October 26