After careful study, researchers now argue that a painting bought by an art historian more than 50 years ago could be the work of Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck himself, Dalya Alberge reports for the Observer. Its owner, art historian Christopher Wright, says it could be worth around $54,000.
In 1970, Wright was a young academic working for little money in a London library. After making some extra money, he decided to spend on what he thought was another artist’s copy of a van Dyck portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, the Catholic monarch who ruled the Spanish Netherlands in the early 17th century.
Wright bought the canvas from a local antiques dealer for £65 ($90) near his London home — roughly the equivalent of $1,392 today, taking inflation into account. The painting hung in Wright’s living room for decades, gathering dust and becoming the subject of jokes among friends, he says. The country‘and Rafael de Miguel.
Wright had never considered that the work could be original until a visitor, curator Colin Harrison, noticed the portrait and encouraged him to have the painting professionally appraised. Harrison pointed to the skillful rendering of Isabella’s hands as a point in favor of its authenticity.
“Hands are always the hardest thing to paint. And [v]a Dyck was very good at it. That was the key that led us to conclude that he had greatly influenced this work,” Wright said The country.
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 studio painted different versions of this same Infanta portrait, which was copied almost verbatim from previous renderings by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, reports Jasmine Liu for hyperallergic. The queen probably never sat in front of this portrait either.
“Because these paintings are so similar, it can be challenging 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 workshop practice during this period makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about paintings that are believed to be Van Dyck’s work, but which cannot be easily attributed to Dyck’s oeuvre.
Francis and McCall date Wright’s painting between 1628 and 1632. During this period, Van Dyck’s career began 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 London’s National Gallery.
The recently restored Wright painting depicts Isabella the infanta 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 announce the 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 show the work publicly and has already given the work on long-term loan to the Cannon Hall Museum in the UK
Francis and McCall offer a more measured assessment: “The dexterous skill 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.
Wright, now 76 years old, lives in Crete after studying a long career in Flemish and French painting. The art historian has discussed the attributions of paintings before; he found a portrait of George Stubbs in the Ferens Art Gallery in the UK, per Artnet news. According to hyperallergic, Wright made headlines in 1982 when he and other art historians claimed that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s the fortune teller was a forgery. (The museum still attributes the painting to French artist Georges de la Tour. Other curators and experts have also disputed Wright’s claims.)