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French Police Seize the Prince of Liechtenstein’s Lucas Cranach the Elder Painting

On Tuesday, a Paris judge ordered a painting attributed to the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder seized from an exhibition in Aix-en-Provence after doubts about its authenticity were raised, according to a report by Vincent Noce in the Art Newspaper. The work, which will be examined by experts, is part of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s collection and currently on view as part of an exhibition of his collection at the Caumont Centre d’Art through March 20, 2016. A lawyer for the Prince, Eric Morain, told the French press he was “surprised” by the order, which was made without warning “despite the Prince’s long and close collaboration with France’s leading cultural institutions, including loans of major works.” The Prince’s private collection is held in esteem worldwide, holding more than 1,700 paintings.

The work in question came to market in 2012 and was sold to the Prince in 2013 by Colnaghi Gallery in London. The gallery originally bought the painting from the manager of an American investment fund for about $3.5 million and sold it to the Prince for about $7.6 million, claiming they first discovered the work “in a Belgian collection, where it had been held since the middle of the nineteenth century.” According to documents, the work had been offered for sale to Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and other galleries, but was declined. Authorities are now investigating its provenance.

A laboratory report commissioned by Christie’s prior to its Old Master auction in 2012 found six “concerns” that required “further research.” The first of these is the “rather coarse nature” of azurite pigment in the pearls the Venus figure wears in the painting as mixed with titanium white, which was not available until the twentieth century. This anomaly could be explained by later restorations though, according to the author of the report. Other issues include “the manner in which the surface paint is cracked and delaminating from the panel, the nature of the panel itself and the blackish appearance within these cracks.”

The Prince of Liechtenstein and Culturespaces, the managing company behind the exhibition space in Aix, will join the court case as civil parties.

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