Category: Discoveries

News 'in little'

June 25 2011

Image of News 'in little'

Picture: Bondu et Associes

Some miniature news for you. 

First, an exceedingly rare portrait of Peter the Great by the court artist Grigory Musikiysky (1678-1739), sold for EUR 27,000 in Paris today. The estimate was just 5-6,000. As you can see, it isn't a particularly accomplished work, but such is the demand for Russian Tsarist portraits that the quality seems not to have mattered. Musikiysky normally painted enamels (see an example in the Hermitage here), and this was an unusual watercolour example. It was dated 1719.

And second, if you're in Washington DC, there's a fine looking exhibition of important American miniatures just opened at the National Portrait Gallery (closes May 13th 2012). You can view the exhibits online here.   

If you're really keen on miniatures, then why not come and buy one at the Masterpiece fair in London next week (30th June - 5th July). We will be unveiling some of the stellar works we have amassed over the last few months for the launch of Philip Mould Miniatures. 

A new $200m Leonardo discovery?

June 25 2011

Image of A new $200m Leonardo discovery?

Picture: ARTnews

In the June edition of ARTnews, Milton Esterow has what could be the discovery story of the decade (or even the century?).

Salvator Mundi, above, was discovered in an estate sale in the US. Now, it will be included in the forthcoming Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The only illustration so far available is the murky black and white photograph taken before conservation.

The picture belongs to a group of Old Master dealers, including Robert Simon, and reportedly has a $200m asking price.

It has long been known that there was a lost Leonardo of this subject. One, perhaps this one, belonged to Charles I. Here is a rival claimant to be the original. But, if right, what an astonishing thing Robert Simon has found. It proves what I have often said, that (like it or not) we art dealers are often at the coalface of art history, offering up new discoveries for discussion, acceptance or rejection. Such discoveries are the propellant by which art history advances. Full credit to Nicholas Penny and the staff at the National Gallery for including it in their exhibition. 

The picture was apparently discovered 'about six or seven years ago'. Now, I started working for Philip Mould in May 2005. So if it was bought before then, phew, that's fine. If after, I guess I missed the Sleeper to end all Sleepers. You can see why these sort of stories keep me awake at night...

Read the full fascinating details here. Doubtless it won't be long till this is picked up by the world's press...

A Holy Family reunion

June 24 2011

Image of A Holy Family reunion

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Plug alert - here's a bit of news from our exhibition at Philip Mould Ltd, Finding Van Dyck (closes 13th July).

The small picture on the left is Van Dyck's study for the Head of St Joseph, which was used in his larger composition of The Holy Family, on the right. The study was previously unknown, and appeared in December 2009 in a London saleroom catalogued as 'Circle of Van Dyck/Head study of a Man'. But, having established that it related to a known Van Dyck, we were confident, despite layers of dirt and old varnish , that it was 'right' (as we say in the trade), and bought it.

The version of The Holy Family on display here is on loan from Manchester Art Gallery. Like many of Van Dyck's religious and classical compositions, it was painted partly by Van Dyck and partly by his studio assistants. For example, the cherubs upper right are finely executed, while the blue drapery around the Virgin is rather stiff and heavy.

The head of St Joseph in The Holy Family was also painted by a studio hand. While it follows Van Dyck's original study closely, it lacks the vitality of an original head by Van Dyck. Not a great deal is known about Van Dyck's use of studies, and for a long time they were disregarded by scholars. But as more and more are discovered, it becomes evident that, like his one-time master Rubens, Van Dyck made wide use of head studies, both for his own reference when composing large pictures, and for his assistants to follow.

The study and the finished Holy Family have now been reunited for (presumably) the first time since they were painted in Van Dyck's studio in Antwerp, in about 1630.

Sotheby's Carmelite Monk

June 23 2011


Sotheby's have a good video on their Portrait of a Carmelite Monk, by Van Dyck. Normally, auction house videos can be a bit stilted, but in this one George Gordon and Astrid Centner engage in lively banter over how they encountered the picture. Like me, their initial reaction was 'this is by Rubens'. I'm looking forward to seeing the picture next weekend.

Worth a click.

Vincent or Theo?

June 22 2011

Image of Vincent or Theo?

Picture: Telegraph

The Van Gogh Museum has decided that the above painting by Van Gogh thought to be a self-portrait instead depicts his brother, Theo. From the Telegraph:

"People have often thought it was funny that there were no portraits of Theo, given that they were so close," said museum spokeswoman Linda Snoek.

She said the portrait was made in 1887 while the pair lived together in Paris – a lesser-known period of Van Gogh's life, since the bulk of information about Vincent is derived from letters he sent to Theo.

The painting has long been in storage, but went on display at the museum in Amsterdam on Tuesday as part of an exhibition on new findings about the painter's time spent in Antwerp and Paris in 1885-1888.

The museum has also discovered that the bird in Van Gogh's 1887 painting Wheatfield with a Lark is in fact a partridge.  

New Caravaggio discovery

June 20 2011

Image of New Caravaggio discovery

Picture: Telegraph

A previously unknown painting by Caravaggio has been found in a private collection by art dealer Clovis Whitfield. The composition of Saint Augustine, dated to around 1600, has never before been linked to Caravaggio, but will be published in Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome next month by Yale. More details here

Tune in...

June 16 2011

Image of Tune in...

Picture: BBC BBC1 this Sunday at 7pm to see Fiona Bruce, Philip Mould and I (the bloke on the left) in a new series tracking down lost and mysterious paintings.

The series is called 'Fake or Fortune', which I'm told is a good BBC1 title. I just hope nobody thinks it's a game show...

It was quite an experience filming the series, and somewhat nerve-wracking. Fortunately, we had a brilliant production team from BBC Bristol. As a viewer, one doesn't really appreciate just how talented people who work in TV are, until you see how it's all done. Anyway, it's well worth watching. And don't just take my word for it; an advanced review from Time Out gave us 4/5 stars: 'it's captivating viewing', The Times calls it 'gripping' and 'fascinating', and the FT also gives it 4/5 stars.

More here

The Empire Strikes Back

June 16 2011

Image of The Empire Strikes Back

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

In The Times and on the BBC’s Today programme yesterday morning was news of one of the recent Van Dyck discoveries included in our exhibition ‘Finding Van Dyck’. The story was later picked up in a rather muddled piece by Channel 4 news.

The picture, Study of the Head of a Woman (above), was bought at the Chatsworth ‘Attic Sale’ handled by Sotheby’s. It was catalogued as ‘Circle of Rubens’. Briefly, here’s just three reasons why I think the study is by Van Dyck.

  1. The same head appears in two larger compositions by Van Dyck, both painted in about 1630; Achilles Among the Daughters of Lycomedes (Schonborn Collection), and Adoration of the Shepherds (Church of Our Lady, Dendermonde). 
  2. In the Achilles painting, the woman’s head is used in the lower centre, and has been rotated slightly for the figure looking up at Achilles. In the Adoration picture, the study has been inverted, and used for the shepherdess looking down at Christ. (I would illustrate both, but don't yet have permission to reproduce them online).
  3. In both of the above pictures, the heads follow the study closely, even down to details such as the highlight on the top lip, and the shadows in the cheek. 

We are left, therefore, with two plausible options – either it is a copy after the Achilles or Adoration pictures. Or it was made by Van Dyck in preparation for those pictures.

We can immediately rule out option 1, that it is a copy. Not only is it too impulsive, animated and well painted to be by a copyist (or even a studio assistant), it is also at a different angle and with different hair, thus ruling out the possibility that it was painted after either of the larger works.

In response to inquiries from the BBC and Channel 4, Sotheby’s issued the following statement:

Sotheby’s carefully considered the painting when cataloguing it for sale, and reject the recent attribution to Van Dyck. Six out of seven of the world’s leading specialists in this field whom Sotheby’s has consulted also categorically reject the attribution to Van Dyck (the only one supporting the Van Dyck attribution being the same specialist Philip Mould consulted).  The overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion – consistent with Sotheby’s original cataloguing – is that the painting is by an anonymous Flemish artist working in the 17th century, ultimately inspired by Peter Paul Rubens. 

But here’s three curious things: [more below]

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Is this by Monet?

June 14 2011

Image of Is this by Monet?

Picture: David Joel

This painting will feature in a new BBC1 series on art, Fake or Fortune. The picture is signed 'Claude Monet', and has provenance as a Monet going back to the artist's lifetime. Numerous Monet scholars also believe it to be by him - but the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, which controls the Monet catalogue, maintains it is a fake. Read more here

The series, which is presented by Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould (and even occasionally features me), goes out on Sundays at 7pm from June 19th, for four weeks. 

Two Van Dyck stories for the price of one

June 13 2011

On BBC news.

Van Dyck - or Rubens?

June 11 2011

Image of Van Dyck - or Rubens?

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's announced today a highlight of their forthcoming July Old Master sales. Portrait of a Carmelite Monk (oil on panel, 62.3 x 48 cm) is being hailed as a new discovery of an early work by Van Dyck. The estimate is £600-800,000.

It is an exquisite painting, and looks to be in fine condition. Colours on panel tend to last better than when on canvas, and here one senses the freshness of the painting, as if it was made only recently. One also sees how the paint has been physically worked up with layers of impasto, in an almost sculptural manner. 

Traditionally, the painting has been attributed to Rubens. But Sotheby's has given it instead to Van Dyck, and dated it to c.1617-20. George Gordon, Sotheby's co-Chairman, observes:

...that while Rubens’ portraits are always formally composed, the current work, especially the way the young monk’s head is turned to one side, creates an impression of spontaneity. In addition, the brushwork in the present picture, which is painted in oil on oak panel, is clearly legible throughout most of the painting and is more reminiscent of Anthony Van Dyck when he worked in Rubens’ studio, than of his teacher. Specifically, the use of thick paint to denote highlights in the sitter’s habit is a characteristic of Van Dyck’s personal style at this date, and can be seen in a series of paintings the artist made of the Apostles.

It has become something of a fashion to re-attribute Rubens's made between c.1616-21 to Van Dyck, who was by far Ruben's best pupil. I haven't seen the painting myself, but to be honest my initial hunch from the image is that this leans more towards Rubens. 

Either way, it looks like a bargain at that estimate, and will surely sell for more. 

Angelica Kauffman slips through the net in NY?

June 11 2011

Image of Angelica Kauffman slips through the net in NY?

Picture: Sotheby's

I was interested to see that up for auction a second time in New York was this pair of portraits called 'Circle of Benjamin West.' They were offered at Sotheby's in December, with an estimate of (if I recall correctly) $30-50,000, but failed to sell.

This time they comfortably exceeded their estimate of $10-15,000 to make $28,125 (inc. premium). Despite the obvious damage in the Lady, the condition is actually pretty good. I think the new owner has something of a bargain, for they are, in my opinion, by Angelica Kauffmann (Italian period). You read it here first...

Van Dyck found

June 11 2011

Image of Van Dyck found

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Breaking news! I'll post more on this later, but here is a piece appearing in tomorrow's Observer on a few discoveries a certain blogger has been involved with...

Rockwell painting found on US Roadshow

June 6 2011

Image of Rockwell painting found on US Roadshow


Norman Rockwell's Little Model has surfaced on the US version of the Antiques Roadshow. The picture was painted in 1919 for the cover of Collier magazine, but had been in a private collection since. The value given was $500,000.

'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear €500k?'

June 1 2011

Image of 'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear €500k?'

Picture: Der Spiegel

German police have smashed a highly succesful forgery racket. Believed to be Germany's largest ever forgery scandal, the victims included Hollywood actor Steve Martin, and Christie's. 

The above painting, 'Landscape with Horses', was sold as a genuine work by Heinrich Campendonk at Christie's in 2006 for €500,000. (I would link to it on their website, but, mysteriously, the lot has been removed). It had in fact been knocked up by Wolfgang Beltracchi, and his accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus. They had been producing high-quality fake modern and contemporary art since 2001, and possibly earlier. From Der Spiegel:

The accused allegedly attributed almost all of the forged works to artists from the first half of the 20th century, including Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and others. Most of the works were sold with now 60-year-old Beltracchi's story that they were part of the art collection of Cologne businessman Werner Jägers, who was the grandfather of the two female suspects in the case. Jägers was said to have bought the works from the renowned art dealer Alfred Flechtheim and hidden them on his estate in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany during the Nazi years. Schulte-Kellinghaus allegedly used a similar ruse, claiming the paintings, which were supposedly lost, originated from the collection of his grandfather, the master tailor Knops from Krefeld.

I've often heard it said that buying modern and contemporary art is a safer investment than old masters, because there are never any doubts over authenticity. But, alas, that's a load of old phooey. And it's practically impossible to fake an old master.

New date for 'Leonardo?' court case

May 30 2011

Image of New date for 'Leonardo?' court case


The case of Marchig vs. Christie's returns to court on 24th June.

The dispute involves the drawing, above, sold in 1998 by Christie's as 19thC German School for $19,000. A subsequent owner now claims it is by Leonardo, and worth $100m. Unsurprisingly, the vendor at Christie's, Jeanne Marchig, has been trying to take Christie's to court. But she has so far lost her case because the relevant statute of limitations in New York (6 years) has expired. 

Marchig has sought leave to appeal the limitations decision. If she wins, then the far more difficult case of is it or is it not a Leonardo will come before the court. And since at the last count an impressive array of scholars do not think it is by Leonardo, who knows where we'll end up. For a fuller discussion on the case's implications see here.

And if you're really keen, the case is being heard at 2pm, 500 Pearl Street, in the Ceremonial Courtroom, 9th floor.

On the joys of being an art dealer

May 27 2011

Image of On the joys of being an art dealer


The recession may continue to throw up challenges for art dealers - some say that this year’s European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht was pretty gloomy - but there is still plenty of fun to be had 'in the trade'.

For me, the most exciting part of art dealing is that you never know where the fickle of finger of fate might point you, be it the pictures you encounter, or the people you meet.

Every week I look at hundreds of paintings for sale around the world, and though much of it is little better than the stuff you find on the railings outside Hyde Park, probably at least one will be worth buying. [More below]

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Depression art discovery

May 25 2011

Image of Depression art discovery

Picture: AP/Gallup Independent

Here's a curious coincidence - two days ago I mentioned the exhibition in Oklahoma of paintings funded by Roosevelt's Public Works of Art Project, part of the New Deal.

Now, another work funded by the programme has apparently been found by construction workers in the roof of Gallup City Hall, New Mexico.

What is most interesting about the picture, by Eliseo Rodriguez, is that it isn't very good. I suppose there will always be a quality control issue if the state suddenly commissions thousands of paintings all at once. Arguably, though, the bad pictures commissioned by Roosevelt's programme tell us more about the era than the good ones.

Another happy ending

May 24 2011

Image of Another happy ending

A triptych stolen from Italy and bought by the Speed Museum in Kentucky in 1973, has been returned to its owners.

The picture, thought to be by Jacopo da Casentino (d.1358), was one of 14 works of art stolen in a raid on an Italian Villa, now thought to be worth $33m. The Speed Museum paid $38,000 for it, unwittingly, and has no insurance to cover the loss.

Ever heard of Jasper Cropsey?

May 17 2011

Image of Ever heard of Jasper Cropsey?

Picture: New York Times

If you've got a pair of seemingly innocuous 19thC American landscapes you think are worth a few hundred dollars max, as the owner of the above did, then swot up on him quick. The pair made $840,000 in New York State last Sunday.

More here.

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