Rediscovering Art

How this art piece went from $5K last year to $2M this year

While rediscovering art lost to time is a rare event, it does happen. Take Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady (1916–17), which was found hidden in a wall of Ricci Oddi Modern Art, or a painting of a young woman attributed to Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni, which turned up at a rummage sale in the English town of Dorset.

When it comes to buying and selling fine art, these hidden gems can breathe new life into collections, and set off bidding wars at auctions. In September, Moretti Fine Art’s new Paris gallery unveiled a piece by Baroque artist, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, also known as Il Guercino. The painting portrays Moses, hands raised, looking more radiant than ever post-restoration.

Rewind to last November, however, and the painting had a quieter debut in Paris. The auction house Chayette & Cheval attributed the work to an anonymous follower of Guido Reni, with an estimated price of $5,175–$6,200.

On auction day, the painting caught the eye of two bidders who went head-to-head before Italian Old Master specialist Fabrizio Moretti secured it for a significant $610,000. Now the Guercino painting is valued at $2.2 million. From over $5,000 to over $2,000,000, what’s behind this painting’s phenomenal valuation?

A little restoration goes a long, long way

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, better known as Guercino, was an eminent Italian Baroque painter born in 1591 in Cento, Italy, near the artistic centers of Ferrara and Bologna. The nickname “Guercino” translates to “the squinter,” referencing his strabismus.

Although he studied with local artists, he was largely self-taught. Initially, he drew inspiration from the rich style and colors of Venetian Ferrarese artists, as well as the Caracci’s naturalistic figures in dramatic chiaroscuro light.

Throughout his career, Guercino’s style transformed notably. While in Rome, he adopted the prevailing classicizing style, partly to keep up with demand from patrons who were investing in fine art. After returning to Cento two years later, he combined his early dramatic style with a lighter palette. By 1630, however, Guercino began to emulate the aesthetic of Guido Reni (1575-1642).

While Reni once accused Guercino of stealing his style, the artist eventually rejected Reni’s ethereal approach in favor of his own naturalism. This is why the newly discovered Moses was originally misattributed to an anonymous follower of Guido Reni belonging to the 17th-century Bolognese school.

However, speaking to ArtNet News, Moretti said confidently, “We never questioned the attribution… From 100 meters you can tell this is an early Guercino, which is the best moment in the artist’s career.” Through careful research and restoration, Moretti was able to trace the painting’s provenance, highlighting the significance of restoring fine art and managing a fine art collection.

Guercino crafted Moses around 1618 or 1619, which is a standout example of his early works, particularly his prima maniera, or works he produced before going to Rome in 1621. As for its origin story, records trace the painting back to 1624 as part of the collection of Guercino’s patron, Cardinal Alessandro d’Este. After the cardinal’s death, the painting entered the Este ducal collections and eventually traveled to France during the Napoleonic era. After that, its trail goes cold, with only copies giving hints to its existence.

Finding your hidden gem

Finding rare fine art like Guercino’s Moses can be thrilling and enriching. Whether you are interested in emerging artists, blue chip artwork, or restored fine art, the consultants at Heather James Fine Art can help you discover unique works of art, ensuring both authenticity and value. And with our online viewing room, you can explore our catalog from the comfort of your home.

At Heather James Fine Art, we have access to thousands of works, but not all can be shown on our website. If there is a specific artist or artwork you are interested in, please contact us. We are here to make your collection complete.