In 2005, Nora Nic Con Ultaigh learned that her that her great-grandfather had bought a Caravaggio painting at an auction and later sold it. Nora and her cousin began a quest to find this painting. Could they be on the trail of another lost Caravaggio?
In 1990, the Irish art scene made world headlines when a lost Caravaggio painting was found in the residence of the Jesuit Order in Dublin.
In Nora Nic Con Ultaigh’s family folklore, there is another story of a Caravaggio.
In 2005, she learnt from an article that was reprinted in a Galway newspaper, that her great-grandfather, Tom McHugh, a stonemason and hotel proprietor in Tuam, had bought a Caravaggio painting at a local auction for £4.7.6. and subsequently sold it at Christie’s in London in 1930 for £136.10.
This was the first she, or any of her family, had heard of it.
Could it really be true that a Caravaggio had graced Nora’s family for a short period of time? If it indeed was a Caravaggio, how had it made its way to Tuam? What made Tom McHugh buy it - and what happened next?
Alongside her cousin Ruth McHugh, a noted artist in her own right, they begin a quest to find the painting which was entitled ‘A Girl, in Blue Dress, with Embroidered Cloak’ in its sale in Christie’s in 1930. They talk to family members, local people, Caravaggio experts, art historians, art dealers, librarians and curators in their effort to track it down.
During the search, they learn about their ancestor Tom who was described in his obituary in ‘The Tuam Herald’ as one of the few remaining old-time personalities in Tuam. He was an accomplished stonecutter who had a deep connection with Irish culture and the Irish language. But he also had an appreciation and an eye for European art. He would buy art at auctions, exhibit them in his hotel and sell them on.
Could Nora and Ruth be on the trail of another lost Caravaggio?
This is a tale of great art, a small town, a calling to dream and the struggle to survive.
Narrated and produced by Nora Nic Con Ultaigh
Research by Ruth McHugh
Production Supervision by Sarah Blake
Sound Supervision by Damien Chennells
Recordings in Houston, Texas by Edel Howlin
First broadcast on Saturday 12th September at 1pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries