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Painting to be auctioned for £120,000 after investigation into fake or fortune

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A painting by a 19th-century French artist is expected to fetch up to £120,000 when it goes up for auction in London – two decades after it was bought in New York for £3,800.

Jean-Léon Gérôme’s work, entitled ‘At Prayer’, was authenticated following an investigation by the BBC’s Fake of Fortune team broadcast this summer.

It was bought in 1999 by Los Angeles artist Jon Swihart at an auction in New York for $6,325 (a value of approximately £3,800 at the time), cataloged as ‘Circle of Jean-Léon Gérôme’.

Mr Swihart was certain that the painting could be a work by the actual artist – and enlisted the help of presenter Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mold to confirm this.

During the program on August 4, Mold pointed out to Mr Swihart that his painting would only be worth around £1,000 if it wasn’t actually the artist’s.

Art historian Emily Weeks, a recognized expert on Gérôme’s works, conducted a critical reassessment of the exhibition and was able to authenticate the work.

Jean-Léon Gérôme’s work entitled ‘At Prayer’ was authenticated by Fake or Fortune

Fake of Fortune host Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mold with 'At Prayer' in the middle

Fake of Fortune host Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mold with ‘At Prayer’ in the middle

This is despite being considered a collaborative work in the 1980s by Gerald Ackerman, an art historian and leading Gérôme expert who died in 2016 at the age of 87.

While researching for the BBC show, Bruce visited Sotheby’s in London to speak with Claude Piening, a senior specialist in Orientalist art.

Created shortly after Gérôme’s first trip to Egypt in 1856, the painting provides a picture of Muslim prayer and an insight into the artist’s working method.

An important piece of evidence was a pencil sketch by Gérôme, in the possession of the Cooper Art Gallery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, of a kneeling man in cloak and turban.

Another was the location of the pulpit or minbar identified as Qaytbay’s in Cairo’s northern cemetery where Gérôme is said to have visited.

The painting was purchased in 1999 by Los Angeles artist Jon Swihart, pictured with his wife Kim

The painting was purchased in 1999 by Los Angeles artist Jon Swihart, pictured with his wife Kim

An important piece of evidence was a pencil sketch by Gérôme, in the possession of the Cooper Art Gallery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, of a kneeling man in cloak and turban

An important piece of evidence was a pencil sketch by Gérôme in the possession of the Cooper Art Gallery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, of a kneeling man in cloak and turban

Experts also noted the position of the worshiper praying away from the minbar, and thus Mecca, rather than towards it—something Gérôme was known for.

Gérôme is said to have done this because he wanted to show people the intensity of the worshiper’s expression, while also including the richly decorated pulpit.

Now, following the outcome, Sotheby’s will list the photo – painted in 1858 – as a lead highlight in ‘The Orientalist Sale’ and it will be open for bids from October 20.

The painting has an estimated value of £80,000 to £120,000 and is now one of the earliest photographs of Gérôme, who was born in May 1824 and died in January 1904.

Piening said: ‘I like the immediacy of this painting, executed because it was not long after Gérôme’s first trip to Egypt in 1856 and his impressions of his travels were still fresh in his memory – the viewer really feels transported to another place. and culture.

Another important piece of evidence was the location of the pulpit or minbar identified as Qaytbay's in Cairo's northern cemetery, where Gérôme is said to have visited

Another important piece of evidence was the location of the pulpit or minbar identified as Qaytbay’s in Cairo’s northern cemetery, where Gérôme is said to have visited

The model for At Prayer can be found in an 1857 work by Gérôme in the same auction, called Prayer in the House of the Horace Chief (pictured), with an estimated value of up to £150,000

The model for At Prayer can be found in an 1857 work by Gérôme in the same auction, called Prayer in the House of the Horace Chief (pictured), with an estimated value of up to £150,000

“It’s a small work, but it has a huge impact – when you look at the figure from the front, you really see the deep communion between the worshiper and God.

‘The fact that this work has rightly been included in Gérôme’s oeuvre is evidence of exceptional quality.’

The model for At Prayer can be found in an 1857 work by Gérôme in the same auction, called Prayer in the House of the Arnaut Chief, with an estimated value of £150,000.

In 2019, Sotheby’s set the artist’s auction record with Riders Crossing the Desert, which sold for £2.6 million, or £3.1 million including the buyer’s premium.

At Prayer is offered as part of The Orientalist Sale at Sotheby’s in London, starting October 20 and ending October 26.

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