Art Historian Discovers Painting He Bought for £65 May Be the Work of Anthony van Dyck

A copy of an Anthony van Dyck portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia that has been hanging for years in the home of an art historian may be the work of the Flemish master. Per a report in the Guardian, Christopher Wright, an Old Masters specialist known for discovering overlooked treasures in public and private collections, bought the painting for £65 (around $88) from a London dealer in 1970.

“I was buying it as a copy, as an art historian,” he told the British outlet. “I took no notice of it, in a strange way.” Now, he is planning to put the piece on display in a public institution. It will be on permanent loan to the Cannon Hall Museum in the village of Cawthorne, Barnsley, which houses a renowned collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings.

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The painting, which depicts the infanta of Spain and the regentess of the Spanish Netherlands, caught the attention of one of Wright’s visitors, Colin Harrison, a senior curator of European Art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. After a close inspection, Harrison suggested there was evidence of van Dyck’s trademarks, in particular his exacting representation of hands.

The work is believed to have been made between 1628 and 1632, a period when van Dyck worked as the preeminent portraitist to the Spanish and English aristocracy. In 1632, van Dyck moved to London, where King Charles I named him the court’s resident painter and knighted him. His influence as a portrait artist in Europe was immense, and copies of his work proliferated. As a result, debate over the attribution of these works persists today.

In each copy of the portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, she appears in a nun’s habit. The pious dress and gloomy, subdued background convey her period of mourning following the death of her husband, Archduke Albert VII of Austria, in 1621. She led the region until her death in 1633, a period considered the Golden Age of the Spanish Netherlands.

Wright brought the work to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where it was examined and restored. The Courtauld’s report, written by Kendall Francis and Timothy McCall, said that numerous such infanta portraits were created by van Dyck and his studio, often making it “very challenging” to determine the principle author of each version. They conclude: “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.”


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