The version of The Tax Collector’s Office was found behind a partially hidden door in a home in northern France. The picture was spotted by Malo de Lussac of auction firm Daguerre Val de Loire during a routine valuation visit to a property in Amboise near Tours.
It sold for €600,000 (£527,335) at the Hôtel Drouot auction centre on March 28. The estimate was €600,000-800,000 and it was knocked down at the lower end of expectations reportedly to a Swiss buyer.
With fees added, the price was €780,000 (£685,535).
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, de Lussac thought the painting, which is unsigned, was worthy of further research and engaged the services of Old Master specialist Turquin.
After consulting German art historian and Brueghel specialist Dr Klaus Ertz, it was believed to be an addition to the approximately 30 known autograph versions of the subject by Brueghel the Younger and was 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.
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.