Art World Discovery: Roman Torso from Collection That Yielded da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

ALEXANDRIA, VA., Aug. 30, 2023 – The Sir Francis Cook Collection that gave the art world a painting that went on to achieve $450 million at auction, the highest price ever paid for a work of art, has turned out another discovery – this time, an ancient Roman torso, also found in an unknown private American collection. It will be offered at the Potomack Company auction house Oct. 4.

Like the much publicized Salvator Mundi painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the subject of several documentaries, the marble torso had been in the collection of wealthy British textile magnate Sir Francis Cook (1817-1901), who amassed an art and antiquities collection said to rival the collections of Henry Clay Frick (Frick Collection) and Henry Walters (The Walters Art Gallery).

In 1849, Cook bought the 18th century Doughty House in London to house his growing collection of important Old Master paintings, including works by da Vinci, Rubens and Rembrandt, as well as his collection of Roman antiquities. Numerous works from the Cook Collection can now be found in leading museums all over the world.

The torso remained in Doughty House until 1948, when it was sold by Cook’s great grandson and the trustees of the Cook estate to architectural antiques and sculpture dealer (Albert) Crowther of Syon Lodge. Fast forward to spring 2023 when a Maryland family reached out to Frances Krongard, head of sculpture for the Potomack Company auction house in Alexandria, Va., to sell art and antiques from their parents’ estate.

Krongard visited the family home to identify inventory for auction. In a closet by the attic, she spotted the torso on the floor, surrounded by damaged porcelain figurines. Krongard knew instantly it was ancient and important. The family had no information or provenance to offer her, so she began digging for clues, with no luck for several months. A phone call changed that. Three trunks had been found in the attic of the home. In the trunks, she discovered a 1949 pocket calendar with European trip notes and a list of “Things I Bought,” which included a “Roman marble male torso” as well as exhibition bulletins from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore that mentioned a male torso from the Cook Collection. After countless hours of painstaking research, Krongard found a news story online about the renovation of Doughty House that included archival photographs from 1905. In one of the images, she spied the torso in the lower corner under a painting.

Again, like the da Vinci, which was sold out of the Cook Collection and eventually landed in an obscure private collection in New Orleans before its famous sale for nearly half a billion dollars, the torso also has been off the radar in an unknown American collection since 1949.

The Potomack Company auction house is honored to auction this rare, 1st century B.C./1st century A.D. sculpture, with extensive documentation and provenance tracing it back to one of the most renowned art collectors of the past two centuries. The sculpture will be offered in Potomack’s Oct. 4 "Roman to 20th Century Auction.” Preview opens Wednesday, Sept. 6.



Doughty House, 1905: Torso seen on bottom, left. Photo: From an album in the possession of the heirs of the late Brenda, Lady Cook. Photograph @ Robin Briault, courtesy of the Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, D.C.