NEW YORK - Helping to bring a long lost painting to light is one of the greatest thrills of an auction specialist. Such is the case with Moritz Daniel Oppenheim’s painting Kidnapping of the Mortara Child, which is a highlight of our December 17 Important Judaica sale.
Many months ago, an email crossed my screen from a junior specialist in our European Paintings Department in London. An estate lawyer had stopped by Sotheby's with photos of this painting and he felt it would be of interest to me. Indeed it was. Not only did it recount a well-known incident in Italian Jewish history, but a quick check of the literature showed that the painting had been missing for over 100 years. Excitement mounted as I realized that a published sketch for the painting, which is itself missing, bore a strikingly close resemblance to the painting we were being shown. We arranged for the painting to be brought to London for further research.
Curators at various Jewish museums, including the museum in Oppenheim's home city of Frankfurt, shared my enthusiasm. They sent me images of other studies for this painting, which were part of Oppenheim's archives. In July, I shared a marvelous afternoon with the curator of European paintings at the Israel Museum, looking at the Oppenheims in their collection.
Now we await the exhibition on December 12 when the painting is officially revealed to the public for the first time in over 100 years.