Lady Who?

If you have $35,000 down the back of your sofa (and $400 for postage), you could be the proud owner of this rather nice portrait of Lady Middleton by Peter Lely.

Lady Middleton

So far, so simple, right? Well, yes and no. The above painting is listed on Ebay, which always makes me sceptical of both the seller and the item. It’s not that I automatically mistrust someone trying to sell an old master (if it is one) on Ebay, but for me it raises a number of questions about both.

First, I am not in anyway suggesting the seller here is anything but an honest and professional member of the art trade. From the given description of their business and practice they seem genuine, and without investigating them further I have no immediate reason to be suspicious of them. However, if you believed you had a genuine work of art by Peter Lely, one of the greatest painters in European art history, why would you choose to flog it on Ebay, a generalist online auction site from which you can also buy socks for 25p, or a multipack of Ribena cartons for £1? I don’t know the going rate for a Lely at auction these days, but I’m pretty sure $35,000 would be a bargain price. Why would you not go to one of the big auction houses and try and get a few hundred grand for it?

The seller posts a disclaimer that they are wholesale art dealers, and are not in the practice of authentication. Fair enough, they admit they just sell the items, and don’t make any claims as to the correct identification of the works they sell, arguing caveat emptor to avoid any accusations of misselling. Yet they have listed the item as ‘by Peter Lely’, rather than ‘attributed to’ or ‘we’ve been told it’s by Lely but you’ll have to google it yourself’,  which seems like a pretty straightforward claim of authenticity to me. Cannily covering all bases, perhap? They also give no details of the sitter, beyond that she was a 17th century woman name Lady Middleton. Even if they do not authenticate works, if they are hoping for a 6-figure sale, one would surely expect some basic information to be sought and included before listing?

They close with “Original origin is unknown. Selling as is without certificate of authenticity.” Not being in the art world, I’m not sure what a certificate of authenticity entails (perhaps someone in the know can explain?) but it makes me wonder even more why a work that has the possibility of being proven a genuine work by a popular and sought-after artist is on a buy now’ or ‘make offer’ online auction, where a serious buyer cannot inspect the work in person, as they can at an auction house, before offering large sums of money. I found what appears to be the same picture listed on Artnet as a past auction, and the only new information is that it was ‘collab. w/studio’, suggesting, I presume, that here it was not thought to be 100% by Lely himself.

Whatever the origin, provenance and authenticity of this portrait, I’m not sure Ebay would be my first thought when looking for a quality old master to purchase, yet clearly other people are happy to do so. What do readers think?

Click to view on Ebay

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The Laurel Wreath

In around 1630-1632, the Dutch artist Daniel Mytens, at the time in the employ of King Charles, was commission to paint a double portrait of the monarch and his queen, Henrietta Maria. On this canvas, now part of the Royal Collection, the King is being passed a laurel wreath by his wife, as ‘a symbol of their union and a public statement of tenderness and intimacy.’  The result is below…

DM C and H

History tells us that the King was less than impressed, however, and another painter, a certain Antony Van Dyck, was asked to produce his own version…

AVD C and H
© Archiepiscopal Castle and Gardens, Kromeríž, Czech Republic

Van Dyck’s offering was better received, and replaced Mytens’ attempt on the royal wall. Within two years, Mytens had left England and returned to the Netherlands. Whether this was a direct result of the King’s snub or merely a matter of timing, we can’t be completely sure, but it marked the end of Mytens’ career as a royal painter, and he never worked in England again.

Uunfortunately for Mytens, I can see why Charles wanted an alternative. For starters, the background is drab and empty, offering none of the majesty, intensity or intimacy Charles was looking for. The royal couple’s expressions come across as slightly reluctant, with Charles gingerly reaching to take the wreath as if not entirely sure what to do with it, while Henrietta Maria looks rather bored with the whole affair.

Van Dyck’s, by comparison, ticks all the boxes. There is colour, glamour, a blue sky. Charles watches the queen with an intimacy Mytens completely omitted, and Henrietta Maria looks directly at the viewer, with an expression of satisfaction and the certainty of her role. Charles may be the king, but here the main player is definitely his wife! During the English Civil War she was mistrusted by many, being French and Catholic, and accused of holding a dangerous influence over Charles. Looking at Van Dyck’s double portrait, I wonder if the clever and gifted painter was also making subtle, foreshadowing allusions to this? He fulfilled the brief to Charles’ satisfaction, but may also have offered us a glimpse of the real dynamic in their relationship, and the second power behind the throne.

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