The mother of all pentiments?

August 10 2011

Image of The mother of all pentiments?

Picture: MFA Boston

As I was idly browsing Van Dycks today, I came across this Portrait of Peeter Symons at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Check out the ghostly, pointing hand lower left.

The hand was painted out by Van Dyck after he changed his mind. Usually, such changes, or pentiments (or more correctly pentimenti), are relatively small, such as an altered finger. But here the whole hand seems to have been finished, and then completely changed. Over time, the pentiment has become visible as the layer of paint on top becomes more transparent. Van Dyck always took great care over his hands. When asked why, he is supposed to have said, 'because the hands pay the bills'.

Interestingly, the portrait was rejected as a Van Dyck by Horst Vey in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue. In the late 19th/early 20th century it had been called a copy, and he assumed it was one too. But it's clearly 'right' - and the pentiment proves it. A copyist would never do something like that.

(And that is why we are dealers love a good pentiment...)

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