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Stolen Titian painting found in carrier bag could fetch £25m at auction

A painting of Mary cradling Jesus which was reunited with owner Lord Bath after being stolen has been put up for auction and could fetch up to £25 million.

The 16th century artwork, Rest On The Flight Into Egypt by Venetian painter Titian, is being sold by auction house Christie’s in London.

The picture, which also shows Joseph looking at the mother and son, is 2ft wide and painted on a wooden panel.

It has had many owners over the years, including Austrian emperor Joseph II, before being hung at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna.

Titian painting found
Michael Chamtler, from law firm Farrer & Co, with the recovered Titian painting (Sean Dempsey/PA)

French troops looted the painting in 1809 for the Napoleon Museum, which was assembled by the Bonaparte family.

Christie’s said the painting was then owned by Scottish landowner Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro before being bought in 1878 by the 4th Marquess of Bath at a Christie’s auction.

In 1995, it was stolen from the first-floor drawing room of stately home Longleat, the Bath family’s Wiltshire seat, before being found seven years later after a £100,000 reward was offered for information.

Former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector Charles Hill discovered the painting in a plastic carrier bag, without the frame, in London in 2002.

He is also credited with helping to recover Edvard Munch’s The Scream after it was stolen in 1994, as well as other famous artworks.

Rest On The Flight Into Egypt was estimated to be worth between £6 million to £7 million two decades ago.

The painting, offered by Lord Bath and the Longleat Trustees, will be auctioned later this year with an estimate of between £15 million and £25 million.

Longleat House
The State Dining Room at Longleat House in Wiltshire (Ben Birchall/PA)

Andrew Fletcher, Christie’s global head of the Old Masters department, said: “This is the most important work by Titian to come to the auction market in more than a generation and one of the very few masterpieces by the artist remaining in private hands.

“It is a picture that embodies the revolution in painting made by Titian at the start of the 16th century and is a truly outstanding example of the artist’s pioneering approach to both the use of colour and the representation of the human form in the natural world, the artistic vocabulary that secured his status as the first Venetian painter to achieve fame throughout Europe in his lifetime, and his position as one of the greatest painters in the history of Western art.”

His work was first documented in the collection of Venetian merchant Bartolomeo della Nave and was later acquired by James, 1st Duke of Hamilton, and sent to England.

After he was executed during the English Civil War, it was sold to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, the governor of the Spanish Netherlands.

This is where it became part of the Hapsburgs collection, passing from Emperor Charles to Empress Maria Theresa and then Joseph II.

A Renaissance masterpiece by Titian has previously sold for millions.

Venus and Adonis was auctioned by Sotheby’s for £11.2 million in 2022.

– Rest On The Flight Into Egypt is being sold on July 2 as part of the Old Masters Part 1 sale at Christie’s.