Hercule aux pieds a Omphale (Hercules at the feet of Omphale) was discovered in the stairwell of a “modest home” in Suffolk, according to auctioneers Reeman Dansie who will be offering it with a £30,000-50,000 estimate on June 20-21.
The large classical scene was exhibited at The Paris Salon in 1874, where it was awarded a third-class medallion. One of the artist’s earlier exhibits (he continued to show at the Salon into the 1890s), the 3ft 5in x 4ft 10in (1.05 x 1.46m) oil on canvas is signed, dated and comes in a period gilt gesso frame.
The artist kept meticulous accounts books which record that the work was purchased by The Royal Manchester Institution for 3000 francs – the sale probably representing Dantan’s biggest pay-day at the time.
Its provenance then becomes slightly obscure although the auctioneers have speculated that it was sold after the institute was dissolved in 1882 and its collection was transferred to form the Manchester Art Gallery.
Intriguingly, the Suffolk family who have owned the work for a long time are descended from the Sidebottoms, a family wealthy Manchester industrialists and cotton mill owners. According to family tradition, it has been passed down through this line.
The subject of the picture is the Greek myth of Hercules being commanded by the Delphic Oracle Xenoclea to be enslaven to Omphale for a year. The model for Omphale was Dantan’s partner, Agostina Segatori, who was mother to the artist’s first child. She was famous in artistic circles, having modelled for the likes of Gérôme, Delacroix and Manet, as well as running the Cafe de Tambourin in Paris which was frequented by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent Van Gogh – the latter with whom she had a short and stormy relationship.
Dantan himself went on to produce a number of other paintings with mythological subjects as well as views of Paris, interior scenes and pictures of artists working in their studios. He eventually received a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1889 but died aged 51 in an accident while riding a horse.
Although his works largely fell out of favour in the early 20th century as fashions moved away from highly aesthetic painting in classical styles, they have maintained a following over the years and have been known to command six-figure sums at auction, especially when appearing in New York sales.
The current record for Dantan is the $215,000 (£136,220) for Un moulage sur nature, a painting from 1887 which sold at Christie's New York in November 1995.