A prominent British art historian has discovered that the painting that has hung in his home for years is likely the work of Flemish master Sir Anthony Van Dyck. This is what he writes in the British Guardian newspaper. The man bought the painting a few years ago for about 65 pounds (78 euros). If it is indeed a masterpiece, it is estimated to be worth at least £40,000 (€47,800).
Art historian Christopher Wright has discovered dozens of masterpieces in public and private collections over the course of his career. However, the portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, the regent of the South Holland, went unnoticed for years, even though it hung in Wright’s living room the whole time.
An art connoisseur bought the painting in the 1970s for about 65 pounds. “I bought it out of my interest in art history, as a copy. Oddly enough, I didn’t care.” All this time, it has been assumed that the image of a woman usually dressed as a nun was a copy of a painting by the Flemish master Anthony van Dyck, a pupil of Rubens. Van Dyck later became a court painter for the English King Charles I. And in English, he was knighted in 1632.
It wasn’t until Colin Harrison, curator of the Ashmolean Museum of European Art in Oxford, suggested that the work might be an original. Harrison recalls his visit to Wright: “As soon as I got inside, I immediately wiped the walls, professional disfigurement in my honesty.” “This seems to have been a fun and perhaps good job, and if the hands are right, it is very likely that Van Dyck painted it.”
According to Harrison and Wright, the way the woman’s hand is drawn reveals that it may have been an original Van Dyck, and not one of the many copies circulating of the work. “The work was dirty and covered in a layer of yellowish varnish, but it was in good shape. Now it looks simply fantastic,” said Wright, who took it to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for restoration.
The work likely dates from 1628 to 1632, when Van Dyck was working for the English court. There he was knighted by King Charles I in 1632. Art experts at the Courtauld Institute noted in their report that many copies of the archetypal portraits for which Van Dyck was famous were made in his studio. This makes it difficult to determine with certainty a working drawing. Even for some of the works hanging in museums, there is no consensus as to whether they were by the master or whether they were painted in his studio. The report concludes, “The skill makes us cautiously suspect that the work can be attributed to Van Dyck’s studio and that it was completed during his lifetime and under his supervision.”
The art historian plans to loan the work, estimated to be worth around £40,000, to Cannon Hall Museum in Barnsley. This museum contains a complete collection of works by the Flemish painter from the 17th century.
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