£25,000 sketch is Titian worth millions

A Composition of Three Figures has been named as a work by Titian. Picture: Contributed
A Composition of Three Figures has been named as a work by Titian. Picture: Contributed
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A BLACK and white drawing bought at auction by the National Galleries of Scotland for £25,000 has been confirmed as a work by the Italian Renaissance artist Titian.

The chalk drawing, which shows three shadowy figures, was attributed to another Venetian artist, Jacopo Bassano, until an eagle-eyed curator who spotted it in a catalogue said he believed that the work could be a ­Titian.

An art dealer was given permission to spend up to £30,000 and was charged with discreetly bidding for the artwork – created in around 1550 – when it came up for auction at Sotheby’s in ­London.

It is believed the work could be worth several million pounds due to the rarity of the drawing, one of fewer than 50 by 16th-century artist Titian known to exist anywhere in the world.

The find has been unveiled less than two months after galleries staff revealed that what was thought to have been a copy of a rare etching by Dutch master Rembrandt was actually an original.

The chalk drawing has been given pride of place in a new exhibition called Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting, alongside his masterpieces which have been in the galleries’ collection in Edinburgh for almost 70 years – Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto.

The National Galleries of Scotland had to raise almost £100 million to secure the future of the two paintings after it was given first option to buy them by their then-owner, the Duke of Sutherland, six years ago.

The exhibition also features the first chance to see ­another Titian masterpiece from the same series, The Death of Actaeon, which has been loaned out by the National Gallery in London for the first time since it acquired the painting in 1972.

The three pieces, said to be among Titian’s greatest works, were among six paintings Titian created for King Philip of Spain, inspired by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, better known as Ovid.

Although the figures in the newly discovered chalk drawing do not appear directly in any of Titian’s surviving paintings, they do bear a striking resemblance to another of his drawings, Agony in the Garden, which is on show in the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence.

Aidan Weston-Lewis, chief curator at the Scottish National Gallery, which is staging the exhibition, said a number of leading authorities on Titian’s work, including at the National Gallery in London and the British Museum, had been consulted to verify the discovery.

He said: “It has a bit of previous history, as it formed part of a distinguished collection of master drawings, particularly Italian ones, by a private German collector, Wolfgang Ratjen. He bought it sometime in the 1960s and it remained in his collection until the 1990s, and then resurfaced later at Sotheby’s.

“I had done quite a bit of work on Venetian drawings for a big exhibition we did in 2003 and I was fairly tuned up in them by the time this came up for auction. When I saw the illustration of this in the catalogue, it just screamed out at me that it was a Titian.

“There’s no way of proving these things – there are no documents or signatures. But I was going down to London anyway when the sale was on so I had a good look at and we commissioned a dealer to bid on our behalf. Obviously, I had to convince the powers-that-be that it was in with a very good chance of being by Titian himself and canvassed the views of a number of experts on the artist and got a very favourable response, so we went with it.”