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‘Lost masterpiece’ by Dantan valued at £50,000 found in Woodbridge home to be auctioned in Colchester

'Hercules at the feet of Omphale' by Edouard Dantan with original frame. Picture: REEMAN DANSIE

'Hercules at the feet of Omphale' by Edouard Dantan with original frame. Picture: REEMAN DANSIE


A “forgotten masterpiece” featuring Van Gogh’s mistress discovered in the stairwell of a Woodbridge home will go under the hammer in Colchester later this month valued at up to £50,000.

Hercules aux pied d’Omphale (Hercules at the feet of Omphale) was painted by Edouard Joseph Dantan and first exhibited in Paris in 1874.

Bought by the Royal Manchester Institute for 3,000 francs, it was later owned by the Sidebottom family and has remained in the industrialist family ever since – but had been almost forgotten about by the art world, remembered mostly by an engraving done in 1884 rather than by the original.

The 3.5 by 5ft canvas, with its original frame, was found again during a house clearance in Woodbridge and will be sold at Colchester’s Reeman Dansie auction house on June 21 with an estimate of £30-50,000.

Auctioneer Daniel Wright said: “It is extremely uncommon to rediscover such a significant work – the term ‘lost masterpiece’ is not an overstatement. It is probably an over-used term, but not in this case.

“This is a museum piece, and to uncover a painting of this calibre is very unusual.

“This must be considered one of the artist’s finest works. Although only 28 when this was painted, 3,000 francs represented Dantan’s largest payday for several years.”

The work is expected to gain significant international interest, and the record price for Dantan (1846-1897) is $215,000 in Christies, New York, in 1995.

As well as being a fine piece in its own right, the model for Omphale was Dantan’s then partner and mother to his first child Agostina Segatori.

A famous model who posed for many leading artists including Manet and Delcacroix, Segatori in later years ran Le Cafe Tambourin – a notorious haunt of Boehmian Paris frequented by Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh struck a deal with Agostina, who gave him food in exchange for paintings, and the artist held his first Paris exhibition in the cafe – and the two in time became lovers.

“All of those artists in that period would have been acquaintances,” added Mr Wright.

“Dantan ran in the same circles and was well-respected, though he is not perhaps the household name some of the others have become.

“This is one of his major works, and he kept very good accounts referencing this particular painting, which took six months to complete.”

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