$88 Van Dyck ‘Copy’ Could Very Well Be The Real Deal
By Alexa Heah, 11 Jan 2022
An art historian who purchased a copy of an Anthony van Dyck painting for £65 (US$88) in 1970, recently discovered he could have been sitting on an actual work by the Flemish master.
The portrait depicts Isabella Clara Eugenia, who, according to ARTnews, was the infanta of Spain and the regentess of the Spanish Netherlands. She’s portrayed in a nun’s habit, with a dark, gloomy background to convey her mourning following the death of her husband, the Archduke Albert VII of Austria, in 1621.
It had been hanging in the home of Christopher Wright, an expert on Old Masters, when a visitor, senior curator of European Art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Colin Harrison, suggested that it could likely be the real thing.
“I bought it from a jobbing dealer in west London. I was buying it as a copy, as an art historian. I took no notice of it, in a strange way,” Wright told The Guardian.
Harrison said that the portrait bore evidence of van Dyck’s famed trademarks, including the particular way he painted hands. Believed to have been painted between 1628 and 1632, the work would’ve been created when the iconic artist worked as a portraitist to Spanish and English aristocrats.
To authenticate the work, Wright brought it to the Courtauld Institute of Art, where it was restored to be examined. Kendall Francis and Timothy McCall from the museum said that many of such portraits were created by van Dyck and his studio during the time. This made it “very challenging” to determine how much of the piece was painted by the master himself.
“The adroit skill leads us to tentatively propose that [it] can be attributed to van Dyck’s workshop and that it was completed during his lifetime and under his supervision,” they concluded.
Recognizing its significance, Wright will now be putting the painting on permanent loan at the Cannon Hall Museum in Barnsley, which has a trove of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings.
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