The small oil on cradled oak panel is one of only a dozen pictures by a workshop known only by the moniker Master of the Embroidered Foliage. The name was coined in 1926 by German art historian Max Jakob Friedländer (1867-1958), who likened the way the artist (or perhaps a group of artists active in late 15th century Brussels) painted the foliage in his works to the repeated pattern of stitches in embroidery.
All known paintings depict the Virgin and Child in similar poses and – although minor alterations appear to the landscapes in the background – follow earlier works by the Brussels artist Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464).
Recently, the painting has been examined under infrared light revealing that changes were made to the background during the painting process. Originally, two standing figures were underdrawn in the area where a peacock, symbol of immortality, now stands.
The two figures (probably Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, the parents of the Virgin) also appear in The Virgin and Child Enthroned, another painting that is attributed to the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, and now at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
The last link in a long provenance chain painting beginning with The Spanish Gallery, London, 1912 is the New York University. It was given to the university by ambassador Ruth Farkas.
Specialist Raphael Chateaux said that, given its age, the condition of the work (now housed in a 19th century gothic revival frame) is very good with only small areas of retouching to the sky.
The estimate is $150,000-250,000 but it has already drawn speculation on twitter that it will make substantially more.
@FreemansAuction 's presents a very rare Early Netherlandish masterpiece by the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, with a way too low estimate of $150,000. Their only other work sold this century fetched 1.4 million Euro... https://t.co/gLzGWgN3XF pic.twitter.com/lcwOikwqNV— Francis Mouton (@auctionaugur) February 6, 2019
Oh no another painting I really would want but will probably never be able to afford :(— Cameron Quade (@ArtChortle) February 6, 2019
Master of the Embroidered Foliage, estimated at $150-$250K. I wouldn't be surprised if it passes $1m. Thanks @auctionaugur for your post! pic.twitter.com/ajyWjSNHR8