The item, a large oil-on-canvas copy of an Italian masterpiece that hangs in the Louvre Museum, dates to 1823 and is attributed to a little-known Parisian. At one time, it had apparently been owned by early Toledo glass maker Edward Ford.
A 15-day-long online auction of the painting at shopgoodwill.com closed at 10:13 p.m. Thursday, fetching $19,103, the highest sum for an item sold by Goodwill of Northwest Ohio, by far, said Bob Huber, president and CEO.
The buyer’s name and location were not available. Seventy bids for the painting were received.
The 48-inch-square, dusty painting, sorely in need of restoration, was dropped off by an unknown donor in October at one of Goodwill's many sites in 13 counties, and made its way to the department that sells antiques and better items online.
The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, originally painted by Antonio da Correggio (about 1526 in Italy), shows St. Catherine kneeling next to the Christ Child, seated on his mother’s lap. He holds a tiny ring in his right hand and Catherine, a young Egyptian beauty, extends her hand for him to slide it on a finger as a symbol of their “mystic marriage.”
She is fabled to have come from a wealthy family in Alexandria, and converted to Christianity as a teenager. She converted so many people that she was imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Maxentiuss, who beheaded her when she refused his amorous advances.
On the back of the painting’s wooden frame, amid clots of dust, is written in loopy cursive “Mrs. Edward Ford, 2207 Collingwood, Toledo Ohio,” and “living room.” Carrie Ross Ford and her husband, Edward, lived in a mansion they had built at that address. A round label reads “Mohr Art Galleries, 915 Madison Ave., Toledo, Ohio.” Dan Muszynski, Goodwill’s e-commerce manager, found records showing the shop existed in 1915, and speculates that it might have been reframed there.
On the painting’s front bottom in red is the name Leon Szpadzowski, the artist, the words “apres Correggio,” and a Paris address that Mr. Muszynski determined was in a neighborhood full of artist studios in the 1820s. He figures the artist was commissioned to recreate the popular Correggio. The original St. Catherine was the jewel of a collection owned by a Catholic cardinal in Rome, then a cardinal in Paris, and in 1665, was acquired by King Louis XIV, according to the Louvre Museum’s Web site.
The auction site noted its condition as in need of professional cleaning. The frame, not believed to be original, shows some wear from age and mild deterioration of the finish.
“It’s a beautiful painting,” said Mr. Muszynski, pointing out Catherine’s fine hands, the infant’s sweet face, and several eerie figures hidden in trees in the background. The artist also captured Correggio’s use of glowing light and shadow in four faces in the foreground, and a darker background atmosphere that creates a sense of foreboding.
“If you’re a fan of Correggio, then this is kind of the Holy Grail,” he said.
It was covered in plastic bubble wrap, as Goodwill employees know to do when sending fragile donations downtown. Mr. Muszynski was stunned when he opened it.
“My first thought was that it was a Renaissance painting. It took a couple of minutes to get my wits about me.” It looked familiar, he realized. Then, he thought it might have been stolen.
For the next several hours, he sleuthed online, first trying to figure out what the two final consonants in the hand-written “apres Correggio” were. When he typed in Correggio, the very painting came up, titled The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine with Saint Sebastian.
Recognizing the Edward Ford name, he confirmed that the industrialist had built a home on Collingwood. As for the artist, he found nothing for Leon Szpadzowski.
By Nov. 21, it was on shopgoodwill.com’s auction site with a starting bid of $5. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, the site heated up, and he watched bids (in $2 increments) rise from $502 to more than $19,000.
“My first reaction was fear: What if I have misled people; what if it’s not what I think it is?” His litmus test is emails from shoppers, who let him know if a price is off-base. He found no such criticism.
Larry Nichols, senior curator at the Toledo Museum of Art, has seen the beautiful original in the Louvre numerous times.
“It’s a major painting, frequently copied,” he said. Indeed, what some consider to be the museum’s finest possession, The Crowning of Saint Catherine (1631 or 1633 by Rubens) was derived from Correggio’s painting, Mr. Nichols said.
Toledo’s Goodwill sold two paintings, each for slightly more than $4,000 in May, and once sold an RV for $6,500. Its online sales this year will surpass $1 million; estimated total revenues for 2012 is $12 million. Sales have increased, said Mr. Muszynski, because staff is better educated about evaluating and researching donated items.
The top-selling piece of art ever sold at Goodwill was a Frank Weston Benson oil painting, dropped off anonymously, that sold for $165,002 in Portland, Ore.
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