In their first appearance at auction in four decades, two paintings by Anthony van Dyck depicting a married couple from Antwerp sold for £6.2 million ($8.2 million) at Sotheby’s, achieving the second-highest price for the artist at auction.
Sold together as a single lot during a Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in London on Wednesday evening, the two portraits had remained in private hands since 1976, when they were sold at auction for £38,000.
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The sum paid for the pendant portraits wasn’t quite as much as the £8.3 million ($13.5 million) paid for a van Dyck self portrait made around 1640, just a year before it his death, but it was a solid result, given that they were estimated at £4 million ($5.3 million). The winning bid went to a buyer on the phone with Sotheby’s London-based Old Masters specialist George Gordon.
A 29-year-old van Dyck painted the pendant portraits of in 1628, four years before he was appointed chief court painter to Charles I. The works were shown in a van Dyck exhibition held in 1899 to mark the tricentenary of his birth. The pendants’ provenance record prior to that showcase remains unknown.
Until their appearance as part of a 1958 Royal Academy of Arts exhibition, the identities of the two sitters were recorded only by the last name de Witte. German art historian Ludwig Burchard ultimately confirmed the sitters’ identity based on a monument in Antwerp Cathedral that referenced Jacobus Anthonius de Witte and his relatives. Having worked for the Chamber of Orphans in Antwerp during his lifetime, de Witte likely married Maria Nutius, the woman pictured in the accompanying portrait, who was orphaned at age 7.
The diptych surpassed the result brought for another of the artist’s long-unseen and most-valuable paintings in 2018, when a wedding portrait of the nine-year old Princess Mary Henrietta Stuart, daughter of King Charles I, sold to Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts at Christie’s for $7.5 million—a purchase funded entirely by the Hungarian government.