For Years, a Family Hung What They Thought Was a Fake Brueghel Behind a Door. It Turned Out to Be Real—and Could Fetch $800,000 at Auction

The artwork was spotted by an auctioneer during a routine appraisal trip.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, L'avocat du village (c. 1615-1617). Courtesy of Daguerre and Drouot.

For generations, an aged painting of a lawyer’s office hung behind a door in a family home in northern France. Its residents called it “the Brueghel,” assuming the canvas to be a cheap reproduction of a famous piece by the 17th-century Dutch artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

But the painting, it turns out, is the real deal, and is now set to hit the auction block in Paris, where it may fetch almost a million dollars. 

L’Avocat du village (or The Village Lawyer) is the name of the artwork, believed to have been completed between 1615 and 1617. It’s one of numerous—maybe as many as 90, even—versions of the same scene painted by Brueghel. They all depict a chaotic office environment, with villagers lined up before the desk of a local lawyer. Some have gifts like eggs and poultry in hand. 

Malo de Lussac of Paris’s Daguerre Val de Loire auction house spotted the painting during a routine appraisal trip to the home of the French family, the members of which asked to remain anonymous. The artwork has been with the clan since 1900.

“It is one of those unique finds that happens once in a career,” de Lussac told the Guardian in an interview. “It’s a very unusual painting in terms of size and the fact it is in exceptionally good condition.”

Indeed, at six feet wide, the painting is among the largest versions of L’Avocat du village known to have been produced by Brueghel the Younger’s studio. In the collection of the Louvre, for instance, is another authenticated iteration of the painting; it’s only 31 inches wide. 

“In the family it was known as ‘the Brueghel’ but they had no idea it was a real one,” de Lussac explained. “They thought it was a copy; just a bit of decoration that wasn’t worth very much.”

The family sent the painting to Germany, where experts “confirmed it was a Brueghel,” according to de Lussac.

Once the family “understood the importance of what they had,” they asked de Lussac and his team to “take a photograph of them in front of the painting that they had lived with for all those years,” the auctioneer explained. “It was both funny and touching.”

Born in Brussels in 1564, Brueghel painted pastoral landscapes, village scenes, and religious subjects. But he was best known for his reproductions of paintings by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who is widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of the Dutch renaissance era.

The canvas discovered in northern France will be auctioned off by Daguerre Val de Loire on March 28 at Hôtel Drouot in Paris. It carries a presale estimate of €600,000 to €800,000 ($635,000–$846,000). The artwork and others will go on view from March 11 to 17 in an exhibition at the Hôtel Drouot

Notably, the Brueghel isn’t the only valuable painting discovered behind a door in recent months. Earlier this year, Hansons auction house in London sold a portrait of an alarmingly big baby that was found in a similar spot.


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