Having been in the same family since the early 1900s, the owners always referred to it as ‘the Brueghel’ believing it to be one of the numerous later copies that exist of the Flemish artist’s pictures. However, after being spotted by Malo de Lussac of auction firm Daguerre Val de Loire on a routine valuation visit, the painting, which is unsigned, was thought worthy of further research.
The auction house engaged the services of Old Master specialist Turquin and, after consulting German art historian and Brueghel specialist Dr Klaus Ertz, it is now believed to be an addition to the approximately 30 known autograph versions of the subject by Brueghel the Younger and has been dated to 1615-17.
The subject is also sometimes referred to as The Village Lawyer or The Payment of the Tithe.
This version is one of the largest examples that has ever emerged. Measuring 3ft 8in x 6ft (1.12 x 1.84m), the only other recorded example with similar dimensions is one known to have been in the Surati collection in Milan before 1937 then in a Belgian private collection in 1984.
In terms of its condition, the picture has a layer of old yellow varnish and has undergone some restoration to the bottom centre.
The work will be offered for sale at Hôtel Drouot in Paris on March 28 with an estimate of €600,000-800,000.
A previous sale of The Tax Collector’s Office in Paris was a version about two-thirds of the size that made €1.35m (£1.14m) at Artcurial in 2013.