A PICTURE purchased at Sotheby’s Chatsworth ‘Attic’ sale last year has become the centre of an attribution debate after being re-ascribed to Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) by a leading London dealership.
Originally catalogued as 'Circle of Peter Paul Rubens', the oil
sketch Study of the Head of a Woman sold for £10,000 at
the auction, but research and restoration undertaken by the buyer,
Phillip Mould Fine Paintings, has led to it being reattributed to
Van Dyck. It forms part of Mr Mould's Finding Van Dyck
exhibition which opened earlier this month and runs at his Dover
Street gallery in London until July 13.
Sotheby's, however, have taken the unusual step of releasing a
statement rejecting the reattribution, saying "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
The 18 x 13in (46 x 33cm) oil on canvas laid on panel, now
priced at £85,000, was part of the 1416-lot Chatsworth sale which
Sotheby's held on the Derbyshire estate in October last year. It
came in an 18th century giltwood frame, although the panel was
branded with an earlier Antwerp maker's mark.
Sotheby's statement reads: "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 gallery, however, maintain that the work is too animated and
well painted to be by a copyist or studio assistant, and the
research undertaken has uncovered two larger known Van Dycks which
feature heads that closely follow this study.
They also point out that Sotheby's experts had not had the
chance to examine the picture in the flesh since the removal of the
varnish, nor had they seen the results of their forensic
examination, which showed how the 'bun' in the woman's hair and the
brown drapery were not part of the original picture. This, they
say, confirmed their initial belief that the study was an original
Van Dyck that had been 'finished' by a later hand, and the analysis
shows that this was done at about the time of Van Dyck's death.
Meanwhile Sotheby's International Head of Old Masters Alex Bell
told ATG that he felt the picture was "short on quality and
uncharacteristic for a Van Dyck".
The Finding Van Dyck exhibition itself focuses on how
paintings lose or gain their attribution or identities, and
features a number of studio works themselves to illustrate the
It also features works which were bought from Christie's, a
portrait of young girl catalogued as 'Flemish School' in a Paris
sale which made €1m and a study for the head of St Joseph
catalogued as 'Manner of Van Dyck' which sold in South Kensington
for £121,250. Again, these works have been cleaned and researched
and are now attributed to the Flemish master at the exhibition.
Christie's said that they had considered the possibility of
attributions directly to Van Dyck, stating in The Guardian that the
pictures "were shown to internationally renowned experts and museum
curators before they were offered at auction".
However, the statement also left the question open as to the
auction house's current position on their status. While Christie's
accepted that "attributions can and do change over time", they also
stated that "both works attracted determined bidding nonetheless
and both sold for full prices".
The exhibition also features the Van Dyck self portrait, which
sold for £7.4m hammer at Sotheby's in December as well as loans
from public and private collections.
It will form part of London's Master Paintings Week
from July 1-8, which is previewed in this week's Dealers'
Dossier in ATG's weekly printed newspaper.
By Alex Capon