A new Bellotto discovery?

July 12 2015

Image of A new Bellotto discovery?

Picture: Sotheby's

I had a long look at the above picture at Sotheby's last week - a newly discovered work by Bernardo Bellotto (above). Auction houses like Sotheby's are more modest about making discoveries than tarty art dealers like me, and there was no mention in the catalogue that the picture had been consigned to them as a work by an unknown Italian vedute painter. Sotheby's sharp-eyed specialists soon spotted, however, that the composition matched (with minor differences) a drawing by Bellotto, below, made when he was between 13 and 16. The painting therefore seemed to fit as an early work by this important artist.

I'm no expert in this area, but the technique seemed to fit perfectly for early Bellotto, and, a few condition issues notwithstanding, I thought the cataloguing was spot on. Thinking that the estimate of £80,000-£120,000 was a little cheap, I advised a collector to bid on what appeared to be something of a bargain.

But at the last minute a saleroom notice was put up, which read:

Please note that, following first hand inspection, Bozena Anna Kowalczyk is of the opinion that this work is by a follower of Bernardo Bellotto.

In other words, the picture was a copy. Kowalczyk has curated exibitions on Bellotto and his uncle Canaletto, and evidently carries considerable authority. But Sotheby's (rightly I think) stuck firm to their cataloguing. The picture made £473,000.

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