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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9 Comments

  1. Dodgy as hell is what I think!

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  2. Comes into the “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” category.

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  3. Definitely. Which is why I’m curious that people actually pay these sums for unauthenticated works. It really is a case of buyer beware!

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    • It’s weird enough risking it for small stuff like art pottery (I have an addiction to Antiques Roadshow, lol) but a Lely? On flippin’ ebay? I don’t believe for a second any reputable art dealer would sell there. Wouldn’t touch them with the proverbial ten-foot-pole if I had that sort of money.

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  4. sandiwich

     /  June 28, 2016

    The style certainly resembles one of Lely’s Windsor Beauties, and although there is some resemblance between this and the Jane Myddelton that is part of that set – painted at different ages perhaps? – I would be very surprised to see a Lely on sale on Ebay!

    Stranger things have happened, mind. But, like you say, surely any auction house would happily place it in one of their auctions if it were real. So you can’t help but be very sceptical of this!

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    • Unlike a lot of the rubbish passed off as genuine works by big art names, this at least does look like a Lely! I’d be very interested to know more about it. One would hope that even if the sellers don’t authenticate paintings, they’d share whatever information they may have received from its previous owner, but here there is only a vague condition report and its size. Curiouser and curiouser!

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      • sandiwich

         /  June 28, 2016

        Exactly, some background on where they acquired it would be interesting to me to. I can’t think why they haven’t included that, even it’s just “found in my granddad’s loft!” Perhaps they think anything they say would make them sound even more ridiculous than the notion of a lost work of art being on Ebay does in the first place, lol.

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      • sandiwich

         /  June 28, 2016

        Gah, I hate making grammatical errors, and there’s no edit button! 😦

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  5. There should be an edit button to the right of your name and the date…? If not I can look at the admin settings and see if I can fix it!

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