Adam Partridge Auctioneers Cheshire
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12/09/2013 : Intrigue surrounding discovery of painting in historic Cheshire house

A painting discovered in a safe behind a bricked-up wall in an historic Cheshire house is to be auctioned at Adam Partridge Auctioneers of Macclesfield.

The painting, which may be by the famous 17th century Italian artist Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) and could have connections to Napoleon Bonaparte, was discovered in a locked safe behind an old wall during renovations of Homefield House in Congleton.

The house was built in 1729 and records show that by 1839, Sir Thomas Reade lived there. Reade, son of Congleton surgeon William Reade, was born in 1782 and enlisted in the army at the age of 16. Over the next few years he served in the Netherlands, Egypt, Malta, Spain, America, and Italy, and was knighted in 1815. While in Italy, Reade was under the command of Sir Hudson Lowe, and when Lowe was appointed governor of Saint Helena and “gaoler” of Napoleon during his exile and imprisonment there, he took with him Reade who was made Deputy Adjutant-General. Reade was no great fan of Napoleon and thought that Lowe was too lenient in the treatment of him, with Lowe’s wife even referring to him as “the real Governor”.

As well as a possible painting by da Cortona turning up in Reade’s house, there is another connection between the artist and Napoleon. When Napoleon’s troops entered Rome in 1798, they took over the Quirinal Palace (which at the time was a papal residence but is today the home of the Italian President). In 1811, he ordered the palace to be redecorated in preparation of making it his own residence, including converting the Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi into an apartment for his second wife, Marie Louise. The conversion, as designed by architect Raphael Stern, involved covering up many of the frescos and artworks in the hall that were painted by Pietro da Cortona, being the grand designer of the hall in 1656. The hall was uncovered and restored to its former glory following da Cortona’s original plans during renovation works in 2011.

Adam Partridge, owner of the auction house one of the valuers on BBC’s Flog It, said “Pietro da Cortona was one of the most important Italian Baroque artists and architects at the time, and his influence can be seen all over Florence and Rome. With Napoleon being a well-known collector of art and his connections to the Quirinal Palace, it’s entirely plausible that Thomas Reade could have brought this back after his time in Saint Helena. The painting is on a metal panel and is signed to the reverse along with some illegible text. It’s great to have such a compelling story behind an object and we’re very excited about the prospect of selling it auction.”

The item will be for sale at Adam Partridge Auctioneers on the 26th and 27th September and the catalogue will be able to be viewed online at www.adampartridge.co.uk.