A long-lost painting by the artist Caravaggio was almost stolen by burglars years before it was rediscovered in an attic in Toulouse.
The work by the Italian master, found five years ago in a farmhouse in the French city, was unveiled on Thursday in London after being restored.
Burglars broke into the home and stole items including bottles of perfume but left the painting as they thought it worthless, according to auctioneer Marc Labarbe.
Titled Judith And Holofernes and valued at £129 million, the piece sat for a century in anonymity against a wall between old clothes, family antiques and crockery.
Speaking at the unveiling of the work at the Colnaghi gallery, Mr Labarbe joked the burglars had not deemed the painting "adequate" enough to steal it.
He said: "One of my clients was clearing his attic and he needed two men to help him. It took a year to sell all the antiquities.
"Clocks, toys, pieces of religion, in good and bad condition, clothes, crockery, as well as many things of no interest. Everything was very dusty.
"I have to tell you that a few years before, burglars broke into the attic and stole many things, included eau de parfum bottles.
"Fortunately, our painting was not adequate."
He added: "On the 23rd of April 2014, late in the morning, my client called me again because he had found a painting and wanted my opinion on it.
"I went to his house and climbed the stairs to the landing of the attic where the painting was displayed.
"At this moment there was what was like a fog across the whole canvas.
"The painting was blurry and it was almost impossible to see the details, but I was impressed by the state of the composition."
According to Paris-based art appraiser Eric Turquin, the work was painted in 1607.
It depicts the biblical tale of Judith, a widow from the city of Bethulia, who breaks the siege of her home by seducing the Assyrian leader and beheading him.
It will be sold without reserve on June 27 in Toulouse at the La Halle aux Grains, with Mr Labarbe saying: "This magnificent story began in Toulouse. It has to continue in Toulouse."
The painting is Caravaggio's second version of the same subject, with the first painted in Rome around 1600.
The discovery means there are now 68 known paintings attributed to the artist, who was born in 1571 and died in 1610 of suspected lead poisoning from his paint.
Judith And Holofernes will be on display at Colnaghi at 26 Bury Street from March 1 until March 9.

FBI Found Over 40,000 Stolen Artifacts, Including 2,000 Human Bones, In an Indiana Home

Over a period of 70 years, Donald Miller unearthed cultural artifacts from North America, South America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Indo-Pacific regions. Now, the FBI hopes to return the objects to their rightful origins.

Donald Miller’s home museum (courtesy of FBI)
We all have fun little hobbies: gardening, bowling, or, like one man in Waldron, Indiana, stealing other people’s culture, including the literal bones of their ancestors. Four years ago, the FBI found more than 40,000 individual relics and works of art in the home of Indiana “collector” Donald Miller, including pre-Columbian pottery, ancient weapons, and items in a case labeled “Chinese jewelry” dated to 500 BCE. The objects were arranged in a vast sort of home museum, and included specimens from around the globe — thousands of which were sourced in violation of antiquities laws and federal and state statutes. As reported by SF Gate, according to the FBI, Miller went on digs around the world and illegally brought his finds home to the United States.
But this Wunderkammer turned the corner into a wtfuckerkammer when the FBI raid revealed some 2,000 human skeletal remains amid Miller’s collection, revealing the man to be less a collector than a grave robber (though arguably the line gets blurry at times). It’s estimated the bones belong to 500 Arikara Native American individuals, stolen from burial sites primarily in North Dakota. Though the FBI first engaged with Miller in 2014, the grave-robber and antiquities hoarder passed away in 2015 at the age of 91, leaving the federal organization with a logistical nightmare, in terms of returning the purloined remains and objects to their rightful places of origin.
As reported this week on FBI News, the federal agency is now publicizing the case, along with an invitation-only website detailing the items, in the hopes of gaining further assistance from governments around the world and from Native American tribes to locate their rightful origins. Since, for some 70 years, Miller actively unearthed cultural artifacts from North America, South America, Asia, the Caribbean, and in Indo-Pacific regions such as Papua New Guinea, the number of affected parties is complex, and the disbanding of 7,000 items reclaimed by the FBI in 2014, as well as the human remains which triggered their investigation, is only now being realized.

“It was a very complex operation,” Special Agent Tim Carpenter, who oversees the FBI’s art theft program and who led the 2014 recovery effort in Indiana, is quoted as saying. “We are not treating this material as simply evidence. These objects are historically, culturally, and spiritually important, and you have to take that into consideration.” He added:
We are dealing in many cases with objects that are thousands of years old. So imagine a scenario where you take an artifact that was created 4,000 years ago, survived in the ground or a tomb, survived being looted, survived being transported to the United States, has been in this guy’s house for the last 60 years, and the FBI comes along and we pick it up and we stumble and we drop it and we break it. That’s a pretty bad day.
The mere physical delicacy of the objects in question fairly pales in comparison to the delicacy with which the FBI must trace the rightful provenance of these objects, which Miller liked to display to visiting school groups (though the human remains he kept largely to himself, and the occasional visiting serial killer who might be into that kind of thing). Miller was a renowned scientist who helped build the first atomic bomb, so presumably, his nightmares were haunted by many a restless spirit, and not just those he had disinterred to add to his collection.
As the affair inches towards its resolution, officials from China are due in Indianapolis this week to recover their relics, CBS reports. But the whole situation raises timely questions about the line between grave-robbing and archaeology. With the continuing struggle for people like the Rapa Nui of Easter Island to recover sacred artifacts taken by the British and held as cultural treasures, the Donald Miller case is a sobering object lesson in white entitlement to world culture, and the reluctance some have to return what they have taken. According to the FBI, Miller was compliant with their orders and expressed a desire to see the remains and stolen artifacts returned to their rightful place in the world — but the underlying issue seems to be the sense that it was ever okay to take them in the first place.

The World’s Most Prolific Art Thief Has Just Explained His Motivation

Tourists walk in the atelier of the Rubens house in Flanders, Belgium, an institution from which Stéphane Breitwieser stole an ivory statue. Mark Renders/Getty Images
Most of us sail through life always striving to be better, existing tepidly without definitive confirmation that we are (or ever were) at the peak of our profession. Master art thief Stéphane Breitwieser has a considerable amount of problems, but this is not one of them.
In a long profile published on Thursday at GQ and written by author Michael Finkel, Breitwieser explains, in his own words, just what exactly motivated him to pilfer more than a billion dollars’ worth of artwork in hundreds of museums over the course of an incredible tear of about six years. The saga also involved his mother and his girlfriend (the latter two did not contribute to the story and in fact have never spoken publicly about the infamous robberies).

Breitwieser has been imprisoned more than once for his crimes, and is currently once again incarcerated pending further investigation from French authorities, who say they’ve found “Roman coins and other objects” in his residence.
Finkel points out that what’s perhaps most staggering about Breitwieser is the “why” behind the unbelievable volume of his trophies, which were famously destroyed by his mother for reasons that are still unclear. The thief didn’t resell his items on the black market, or seek to trade what he’d obtained for better housing or travel.
He stashed everything in the house where he lived with his mom and his girlfriend, because all he really wanted to do was look at it. And the “why” behind this impulse of obsession seems so ripe for a cinematic adaptation, it’s practically tumescent. The thief’s father, you see, had abandoned the family when Breitwieser was 22 years old and taken every item of value with him, including a collection of antique weapons.

Stephane Breitwieser appearing on the French program ‘On n’est pas couché’ on October 7, 2006. On n'est pas couché/Youtube
The first thing Breitwieser ever stole from a museum was a hand-carved gun that was dated to 1730. “His first thought, he recalls, was that he should already own something like this,” Finkel writes.
Once off to the races as a thief, Breitwieser set about amassing a trove of Renaissance paintings, daggers and other artistic ephemera fit for a king, but perhaps his favorite acquisition was an ivory sculpture of Adam and Eve that had managed to survive his mother’s attempt to destroy it (she allegedly threw it in the Rhone-Rhine Canal). In 2018, Finkel returned with Breitwieser to visit the statue at the Reubens House Museum in Belgium, from which he had initially stolen it decades earlier.
The thief is overcome, and cries for what can never again be his. “Art has punished me,” he tells Finkel before pilfering a copy of the museum’s catalogueevidently that keenly-felt discipline at the hand of creative expression hasn’t quite tamed his criminal impulse.

This Classic Painting Hung In a British Stately Home. Then Thieves Pounced.

In the early 1990s, thieves hunted down Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s celebrated 18th-century still life The White Duck, and absconded with it, along with several antique clocks.
In 2013, preparations for a celebrated homecoming were being made at Houghton Hall, the two-centuries-old family seat of the storied Cholmondeley family, who, along with their aristocratic lineage and grand estate, had passed down the title of Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England.
In 1779, the descendants of Lord Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of England, had been forced to sell off the bulk of his collection of Old Master paintings to Catherine the Great in order to help pay off debts and keep the family home in working order.
Now, 70 pieces from that early trove of works were temporarily returning home. During a four month-long exhibition, the canvases were to take up their original seats of honor upon the wall and the home was to be staged as it was during their reign.
But there was one important piece missing.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s celebrated 18th-century still life 'The White Duck' had survived the sale to Russia as well as the various smaller listings and auctions that had been periodically necessary during the ensuing centuries when funds were short.
But it did not survive the sticky fingers of a group of thieves who invaded the house in the early 1990s, hunted down Oudry’s painting where it hung in a sitting room filled with French furniture, and absconded with it (along with several antique clocks).
Authorities believe the painting may now be in the hands of members of the Traveller community, but all efforts to recover the work have so far been for nought.

The story of 'The White Duck' begins in the early 18th century when Oudry was plying his paintbrush in Paris and caught the attention of Louis XV.
In 1725, at the age of 39, he was “invited, or rather commanded,” as art historian Amy Freund wrote in a 2016 essay, to travel to Versailles to paint a portrait of members of the king’s court. The commission went so well that Oudry soon became a favorite of Louis the Beloved.
What followed was a cascade of accolades for the talented painter. Oudry and his family were invited to move into an apartment in the Tuileries Palace complete with an art studio; he was given an exhibition at Versailles and appointed the “official painter to the royal tapestry works at Beauvais,” a very lucrative honor.
He became a professor at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and sold his work to some of the top buyers of the day, including Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, the Swedish Ambassador to France.
From his early days as an artist, Oudry was inspired by the 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painters who specialized in genre paintings particularly of hunting scenes. Oudry excelled at depicting animals and had a special fondness for portraying dogs. (It was a portrait of two dogs, Misse and Turlu, that had brought the painter to the attention of Louis XV.)
Throughout his career, the artist would become something of a jack of all styles when it came to en vogue subject matter. He would paint portraits and historical scenes, dip his brush into genre painting and still lifes, not to mention the tapestry design that helped make him rich and famous. But, throughout it all, he displayed a fondness and a keen eye for animals.
Two years before he died in 1755, Oudry made 'The White Duck,' a trompe l’oeil still life. The painting depicts a dead duck hanging upside down pinned by one foot to the wall. A crumpled piece of paper skewered by the same hook reads “JB, Oudry 1753.” The head of the duck lulls lifeless on a table covered by a scrunched up cloth, a candlestick, and a round, shell-like covered bowl.
Despite the grisly subtext of what could be taken as a post-hunt scene, The White Duck is a beautiful painting, with the folds and texture of every surface, the details of every object, rendered with a delicate precision. The predominant color scheme is white, but the whites come alive in the light and shadow, creating a nuance in monochrome.
The National Gallery of Art described the still life as “a stylistic exercise in which the description of the textures and surfaces of the objects is a breathtaking tour de force.”
“Appropriately enough, since 'The White Duck' is about art and illusion, it has disappeared”
“It is a painting engineered to show off Oudry’s skills in reproducing different materials, objects and shades of white in confident, convincing perspective, cheating life and death, defeating the laws of gravity and time,” writes Victoria de Rijke in her book Duck. “Appropriately enough, since 'The White Duck' is about art and illusion, it has disappeared.”
Oudry was flying high as a famous French artist by the end of his life, so it’s no surprise that Tessin snapped up this late-period painting “sight unseen” before it was ever shown in an official exhibition. Soon after, 'The White Duck' was acquired by the famed Walpole collection and began to make its home in Houghton Hall.
Time has not been kind to the grand country estates of England that require tremendous resources and upkeep by aristocratic inheritors. For nearly a century and a half, Houghton Hall suffered the same struggles and bouts of being put on the market and rented out to tenants.
But the grand home managed to stay in the Cholmondeley family, the descendants of Walpole, and finally landed in the capable hands of the fifth Marquess and his wealthy wife Sybil after WWI. The pair began to set about putting the house back to rights.
By all accounts, Sybil was a 20th-century grand dame of the most delicious order. She was fun and witty and knew how to throw a party, even at the end of her long, ten decades of life.
In 1984, Deborah Mitford, one of the famed Mitford sisters, wrote a letter to British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor describing the 90th birthday party held at Houghton Hall for Sybil: “We all made a monster effort, jewels galore &, a rare thing, there was exactly the right number of people. Surrounded by the Oudry White Duck, many a Gainsborough, Sybil’s mater by Sargent, the Holbein of a squirrel & ‘my brother Philip’s Things’ positively gaudy among the indigenous Kent kit, French clocks surrounded by sort of diamonds, eastern this & that all one size too small but adding a lot, the royal people, seven minutes of block busting non-stop fireworks seen through the fat glazing bars & the old glass which is full of swirls & distortions, fires & flowers everywhere. Oh do try & picture the scene.”
Less than a decade later, the Oudry painting that had been witness to countless scenes like this one over centuries hanging in the grand house was conspicuously absent.
The current Lord Cholmondeley hired the big guns to help track down the prized family possession. Charles Hill, the former head of the Art and Antiques Squad at Scotland Yard and who now runs his own private practice, has been on the case. (Hill declined to comment for this piece at the wishes of Lord Cholmondeley.)
A few leads have surfaced over the years. It has commonly been thought that members of the Traveller community were in possession of the painting, and in 2000, the Guardian reported that a former police informer “believed 'The White Duck' was being hidden in the attic of a remote and rundown house on moors near Newcastle.” In 2002, the case attracted some controversy when it became known that Hill had enlisted a former art thief, David Duddin, to help find the work.
Despite the trickles of information and suspicion, the painting valued at over $8 million remains missing from the walls of Houghton Hall. The theft is a tragedy for the Cholmondeley family and for the legacy of Oudry, but it may not always be so.
After all, if the grand estate knows anything, it’s that history is long and that there is always hope that, like its relatives in Russia, 'The White Duck' will return home once more.