An Orientalist Painting Authenticated on the BBC Show ‘Fake or Fortune’ Just Sold for $130,000 at Auction

An artist purchased the work for just over $6,000 in 1999.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, At Prayer. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

A Jean-Léon Gérôme painting that was authenticated after appearing on the BBC show Fake or Fortune sold for £94,500 with fees ($130,000) on Tuesday during Sotheby’s “The Orientalist sale.”

With a presale estimate of £80,000 to £120,000 ($110,000 to $165,000), At Prayer (1858) was the headliner of the online auction, which featured 49 lots. The painting was acquired by Jon Swihart, a Los Angeles-based artist, at a 1999 auction in New York for $6,325.

The work depicting a Muslim prayer was featured in an August episode of Fake or Fortune. When Swihart bought the work in 1999, it was catalogued as from the “Circle Jean-Léon Gérôme,” thought to be a collaborative work by Gerald Ackerman, the late art historian and Gérôme expert.

But Swihart felt that the painting was done by the artist himself. The show’s hosts, Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce, then went on a dramatic and elaborate investigative journey that involved having the painting thoroughly examined—even viewed under X-ray and ultraviolet imaging. Eventually the work was reattributed to the 19th-century French artist by art historian Emily Weeks in the show.

The sale also featured another related work by Gérôme. Prayer in the House of the Arnault Chief (1857), which depicts nine men and a boy in prayer, sold for £126,000 ($174,000), within presale expectations.

The sale totaled more than £2.7 million ($3.77 million) against the presale expectation at £1.85 million ($2.6 million). While the main interest in the Orientalist sale came from buyers in the Middle East and the wider Islamic world, there was no lack of evidence demonstrating Asia’s buying power.

Asian buyers have been bidding heavily at global auctions, making a significant contributions to auction sales worldwide in Western art categories, from Old Masters to post-war and contemporary art.

But an increase in biddings from Asia has also been observed in categories that are considered traditionally less appealing to Asian buyers. At Tuesday’s Orientalist sale, Asian spend made up 30 percent of the total aggregate spend at the sale, according to Sotheby’s. At Prayer, however, was acquired by an institution in the Gulf, the auction house said.

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