A haunting painting depicting Irish heroism during the First World War that was thought to be lost has been sold for €24,500 at a recent auction. 

"The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois" by Italian war artist Fortunino Matania is a depiction of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers receiving "absolution" on the eve of the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915. Most of the battalion died during the battle the following day. 

The British Army suffered devastating losses during the battle, with historians estimating over 11,000 casualties. One account records that around 800 Royal Munster Fusiliers entered the battle and only 200 assembled unharmed at the battle's conclusion that evening. 

Matania's painting is imbued with a sense of impending doom, depicting a priest granting general absolution, commonly granted to a gathering of Catholics when there is an imminent threat of death but no time to hear individual confessions.

The famous painting shows hundreds of soldiers gathered at a shrine near the village of Rue de Bois ahead of the battle, which took place on May 9. 1915. 

Chaplain Fr Francis Gleeson, painted on horseback, raises his hand in forgiveness as hundreds of soldiers look on. 

Matania was not present at the scene but based the work on eyewitness accounts gathered by Jessie Rickard, who is believed to have commissioned the painting to honor her husband Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Rickard, who perished during the battle. 

The painting became one of the most images of the First World War after copies of were printed in the London illustrated weekly newspaper The Sphere in November 1916. Copies of the painting subsequently appeared in the Irish publication the Weekly Freeman's. 

Copies of the artwork hung in houses throughout Ireland, particularly in Munster, before public opinion toward the war changed in Ireland. 

The original painting is thought to have been lost during the blitz of London in 1940 during the Second World War, although there is no conclusive proof of this theory. 

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However, an extraordinary resurrection of the painting surfaced at Clevedon auction house in Bristol on December 8. 

It has emerged that Alfred Robinson, whose son Esmond fought in the Battle of Aubers Ridge, commissioned Matania to make a copy of the painting in 1919 to celebrate his son's safe return from the war. 

Esmond, a two-time winner of the military cross during the war later gave the painting to his nephew Charles. Charles' widow sold the painting for £21,000 (€24,500) at the auction in December 2023.