200 Years Later, A Canova Is Re-discovered

Christie's to offer final work of early 19th-century Europe's "most celebrated sculptor" in July with £5m estimate.

Five years ago, a lost bust by Antonio Canova was rediscovered. The work had been made when the noted Old Master sculptor visited Caroline Bonaparte and her husband Joachim Murat. The portrait bust of Murat had been held in the aristocrat's family for generations.

When it came to market, it was described as “a work by the most celebrated artist in early 19th-century Europe depicting one of the period’s most charismatic personalities.” That pitch helped the work sell for more than $5 million.

Lost Canovas don’t come along very often but another one in fewer than five years is actually a pretty fast clip. This one has an almost poignant story. Christie’s announced today that it has Canova’s Maddalena Giacente (Recumbent Magdalene) 1819-1822, which the artist completed shortly before his death, for its July Classic Week sale. The estimate is £5 million.

The work had been originally commissioned by early 19th Century British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. It is closely related to the famous Endymion at Chatsworth, which was also completed in Summer 1822. The Duke of Devonshire’s house, Chatsworth, was a safe repository for Canova’s work. Lord Liverpool’s estate fell prey to the vagaries of life. The title and estate went to Liverpool’s brother six years after the statue was received. Less than a generation later, that Lord Liverpool’s estate was sold and the statute was safely in the hands of one family for nearly 70 years later. After that, the work changed hands a number of times as its authorship was lost to memory. It eventually was purchased in 2002 in a sale of garden statues. Sedulous research has re-established the work’s authenticity.

It will be on view at Christie’s headquarters in London on 19 and 20 March 19-20, then tour to New York April 8 to 13 and finally to Hong Kong, May 27 to June 1.

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