April 30 2013
Here's an interesting picture that came up for auction last week in Switzerland, catalogued as 'Follower of Titian - Portrait of Gabriel Solitus', with an old inscription 'Titianus' at top right. The estimate was CHF 4-6,000, but it sold for CHF 460,000 hammer - gently helped on its way by us here at Philip Mould & Co. With premium it would have been well over the CHF 500,000 mark, or not far off £400,000, all of which is clearly not a Follower of Titian price. So what was it?
I wouldn't be surprised if we see it surface again one day as a Titian, probably of the late 1540s/early 1550s. Titian portraits don't often come on the market, and Titian 'sleepers' are even rarer, so this picture represented quite an opportunity for picture hunters like us. We went out to see it, buoyed by some pre-sale research which made the attribution to Titian very plausible. In the flesh, however, the picture was so covered in dirt, overpaint and thick varnish that it was very hard to get a grip on the overall quality, while large areas of abrasion made one wonder what original paint was left. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the book. But much of the picture was impenetrable, hence it looking like a copy at first glance, and from the photographs. The picture therefore represented a significant risk, and as a result (and despite our very encouraging research) we didn't feel confident to take the bid any further. I'm sad we missed out on it though. My hunch is it's right.