Lost work by Italian master found in Texas

A painting by Italian master Sebastiano Ricci, long presumed lost, has turned up in Texas after a 300-year journey from the hands of a European nobleman playboy to a fur trader, then through generations of one family.

Ricci's “The Vision of St. Bruno” will be offered by Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries on Nov. 20 and is conservatively estimated to fetch at least $600,000.

The family that owns the work asked Heritage chairman of fine arts Edmund Pillsbury a year ago to take a look at a painting they had stored in a warehouse. They thought it could be a Ricci, but Pillsbury was skeptical.

He was floored when he realized that the 3-by-4 foot painting – depicting a robed St. Bruno looking up at a colorful grouping of angels – did indeed appear to be the work of the famous Venetian painter.

“I was not prepared for something that was as good and beautiful as this,” he said.

Pillsbury said Ricci probably painted St. Bruno around 1705.

Ricci, who died at 74 in 1734, worked for all of the major courts of Europe. “His paintings are in all of the great museums,” Pillsbury said.

The last known documentation of the St. Bruno painting was a 1776 catalog of the collection of Count Francesco Algarotti, an 18th-century art connoisseur from Venice who was known for his colorful love life.

“He was definitely a playboy, but a well-educated playboy,” said Marianne Berardi, senior fine arts expert for Heritage.

The painting had most recently been passed down through the descendants of Charles Rannells, a St. Louis lawyer and legislator who acquired it in the 1840s.

Berardi said Rannells' descendants thought the painting was a payment of legal fees from Joseph Philipson. Berardi's research found the painting was in an 1844 probate list of works owned by Philipson, a fur trader, banker and brewer whose dry goods store outfitted Lewis and Clark.

Philipson probably acquired the Ricci around 1814 in Paris.

Laura Taylor, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles Rannells, remembers the painting hanging in her grandparents' parlor and then in her parents' living room. She said her mother decided it was a Ricci after seeing another work by the artist in a St. Louis art gallery.