Éric Turquin, “the eye” which recognizes a Caravaggio or a Cimabue

With a sharp gaze but a shy and amused air, the expert of the old masters Eric Turquin is the “eye” recognized by all the French auction houses for discovering the last missing works of the great painters, from Caravaggio to Poussin. “It is one of the few professions where you improve as you get older! But not a smart job. Rather a profession of memory and sensitivity», Observes this man of 68 years of small stature, trained in the trade at Drouot then at Sotheby’s in London.

Dressed up to the nines, with something of a British gentleman, Eric Turquin considers the training of memory the sine qua non of this precision profession. “When I take three weeks of vacation without seeing paintings, he notes, I’m unhappy. And it’s like a ping-pong player, it reacts less quickly!“He claims a sensitivity which is not the strength of all experts, he assures, and which implies historical curiosity. Iconography fascinates him: “It forces you to take an interest in history, mythology, religion. Can we understand Caravaggio if we do not see him as a protagonist of the Counter-Reformation?», He asks.

Out of confinement, auction houses, insurers, notaries, restaurateurs, antique dealers, gallery owners, second-hand dealers come to his office on rue Sainte-Anne in Paris and bring him paintings. He thus discovered very rare works by Cimabue, Caravaggio, Ribeira, Gentileschi, Boucher … One of his prides is the discovery in 1997 of the Saint Françoise Romaine by Nicolas Poussin, today at the Louvre. The same professionals continue to consult it from their screens, including from the United States: “We work at full volume, I even had to hire someone!»

Contrary to our reputation as an establishment, our profession is always humility.

Eric Turquin

The penitent Magdalene, a painting by Salai, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, passed through his office, was sold Wednesday for 1.7 million euros at Artcurial. The attribution to Caravaggio of the painting found in an attic in Toulouse, Judith Beheading Holofernes, contested for several years by some Italian experts, before being sold to an American collector in 2019, caused much ink to flow but increased its notoriety. “As soon as it’s Caravaggio or Vinci, everything becomes irrational. Because of the price, the hype», He is irritated.

From the age of 15, the expert said he had “the collectionnite, for silverware, porcelain“. At the École du Louvre, Turquin will study contemporary art. But since “I won, he admits, i stopped at 1960”In art. His beginnings were “very difficult, especially this first internship, in 1975, poorly paid. I had to sell my great-grandmother’s stamp collection to pay for my final years of school. It took me fifteen years to become an expert. The more we advance in our profession, the more we perceive that we know very little. The history of art has very few documents. Contrary to our reputation as an establishment, our profession is always humility».

Like music: when you know how it’s composed, you understand it.

Eric Turquin

Éric Turquin speaks of “connoisseurship”, this flair which he showed in front of the density of the red of a hanging on the painting of Judith and Holopherne, exclaiming: “Cred, it can only be Caravaggio!“. Each painter, explains Éric Turquin, has “a writing” that only the experienced eye recognizes. “We have to see a lot of paintings, thousands: it’s mechanical: memory is working. The more you see, the more connections you make. Suddenly, there is this little bell which rings: it reminds …»

In order not to take the wrong path, the expert must understand “the environment that produced an artist, the culture from which he emerged. Like music: when you know how it’s composed, you understand it», Says this music lover. What fascinates him is that “the world is not binary in art(Either genuine or false). Lots of paintings, he says, “are from several hands».

With the development of radios, infrared, etc … and now artificial intelligence, his fear is that the machine relegates “connoisseurship” and that “the forger rushes in». «Without intuition, no diagnosis! It is the doctor who will detect the fake, who, by questioning the patient, discovers an imaginary patient!»


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