Poussin masterpiece on show in Paris ahead of London auction

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"The Ordination", a major work by the 17th-century French master Nicolas Poussin, went on display this week in Paris ahead of its sale at auction in London next month.

Painted in around 1630 as part of a Poussin series on the Seven Sacraments, the work is being put on display until Wednesday by Christie's auction house which is organising the December 7 sale.

"The Ordination", which represents Christ handing Saint Peter the keys to the Church in presence of the other apostles, is estimated to be worth between 15 and 20 million pounds (18-24 million euros / 24-32 million dollars), according to the auctioneers.

Poussin painted his first cycle on the Seven Sacraments in Rome at the request of a major collector, Cassiono dal Pozzo. The seven works in the series were bought discreetly 150 years later, in 1785, by the Fourth Duke of Rutland.

To get the illustrious works out of Rome without causing a stir with the authorities, copies were made to hang in place of the originals on the walls of the dal Pozzo property.

The family of the 11th Duke of Rutland, who is putting "The Ordination" on sale, still owns five of the seven paintings in the series.

A sixth work, "Penance", was lost in a fire in 1816 at Belvoir Castle, the Rutlands' stately home in central England, while the seventh, "Baptism", was sold in 1939 and now hangs in Washington's National Gallery, Christie's said.

All five of the remaining paintings have been on loan to London's National Gallery for the past seven years.

A spokesman for the Belvoir Castle trustees, quoted by Christie's, said it was "a very difficult decision" to sell such a precious work, but that the proceeds were needed to restore and preserve the property.

Well preserved, the painting is expected to draw interest from top museums, including in the United States, as well as from private collectors.

© 2010 AFP

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