Rejected as a copy for decades, this Flemish masterpiece could now fetch thousands | Smart News

Researchers suspect a painting bought in 1970 for £65 could be the work of Anthony van Dyck. Featured here is an example of a similar painting, Portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain as a nun (1626), attributed to van Dyck in 2009. This work is part of the collections of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

After extensive study, researchers now say a painting bought by an art historian more than 50 years ago could be the work of Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck himself, reports Dalya Alberge for the Observer. The owner, art historian Christopher Wright, says it could be worth around $54,000.

In 1970, Wright was a young academic working for a modest salary in a London library. After earning some extra money, he decided to splurge on what he thought was another artist’s copy of a van Dyck portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, the Catholic sovereign who ruled the Spanish Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century.

Wright bought the canvas from a local antique dealer for £65 ($90) near his London home, roughly equivalent to $1,392 today, taking inflation into account. The painting hung in Wright’s living room for decades, where it gathered dust and became the subject of jokes among friends, he says. El Paíss Rafa de Miguel.

Wright never considered the work to be an original until a visitor, curator Colin Harrison, noticed the portrait and encouraged him to have the painting professionally appraised. Harrison pointed to Isabella’s deft rendering of hands as an argument for her authenticity.

An image of a pale elderly woman in a nun's habit and, on the right, an image of the back of the canvas

Part of a report produced by conservators Kendall Francis and Timothy McCall for the Courtauld Institute of Art, featuring images of the painting owned by art historian Christopher Wright

Courtauld Institute of Art

“Hands are always the hardest thing to paint. And [v]a Dyck was very good at doing it. This is the key that led us to deduce that he had a strong influence on this work,” says Wright. El Pais.

Conservators Kendall Francis and Timothy McCall spent three years examining and restoring Wright’s painting at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and published their findings in a report.

Francis and McCall concluded that the work could be tentatively attributed to van Dyck or his studio, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions. Van Dyck and his workshop painted several versions of this same Infanta portrait, which were copied almost verbatim from earlier renderings by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, reports Jasmine Liu for Hyperallergic. The Queen probably never posed for this portrait.

“Because these paintings resemble each other so closely, it can be very difficult to determine the extent to which van Dyck’s studio assistants were involved in their creation,” Francis and McCall write in their report. “The lack of documentation of studio practice during this period makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about paintings thought to be by van Dyck but not easily attributable to Dyck’s work.

A self portrait of a young man with wavy blond hair, posing in dark clothing with his hands positioned in front and under his chin

Anthony van Dyck, self-portrait, California. 1620-1

Public domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Francis and McCall date Wright’s painting to between 1628 and 1632. During this period van Dyck’s career was beginning to take off. The artist became court painter to Charles I of England in 1632, where he created some of his best-known portraits, according to the National Gallery in London.

In Wright’s recently restored painting, Isabella the Infanta is shown standing with a serious expression. The Queen had previously donned elaborate dresses and jewelry for royal portraits. In this work, however, she wears the habit of a nun to signal mourning for her late husband, Archduke Albert VII of Austria, who died in 1621.

For his part, Wright expresses confidence that the work can be attributed to van Dyck, reports Sarah Cascone for Artnet News. He plans to exhibit the work publicly and has already placed the work on long-term loan to the Cannon Hall Museum in the UK.

Francis and McCall offer a more measured assessment: “Adroit competence leads us to tentatively propose that [it] can be attributed to Van Dyck’s workshop and that it was completed during his lifetime and under his supervision,” they write.

Now 76, Wright lives in Crete after retiring from a long career studying Flemish and French painting. The art historian has already argued over the attributions of the paintings; he found a portrait of George Stubbs at the Ferens Art Gallery in the UK, by Artnet News. According to Hyperallergic, Wright made headlines in 1982 when he and other art historians argued that the Metropolitan Museum of Art The Fortune Teller was a fake. (The museum still attributes the painting to French artist Georges de la Tour. Other curators and experts have also disputed Wright’s claims.)

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