An oil painting that belonged to the descendants of the Viscounts Hambleden until 2007 was sold to and valued by auctioneers Christie’s of London for just £500. The renowned auctioneers concluded that the oil painting was the work of a ‘follower of’ Constable. However, a buyer bought the oil sketch for £3,500 after having a hunch that the painting may have been more than met the eye. The anonymous buyer sought expert advice, which confirmed that his hunch was right: it was confirmed to be an original John Constable oil painting. Anne Lyles, an expert on the works of Constable, has confirmed that this piece is a preparatory sketch completed in 1980 for the masterpiece ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’: this masterpiece was sold to the Tate Gallery for £23.1 million last year.
Lyles stated that the “present work by Constable was heavily retouched with a dark and opaque pigment which probably dated to the late 19th or early 20th century in a misguided attempt to ‘finish’ the painting, thus depriving it of its lively, sketchy quality….Thankfully the retouchings on the present painting were readily soluble in the course of its recent cleaning, and Constable’s original and brilliant conception has been once again revealed.”
Once the painting had been cleaned and restored, Sotheby’s (Christie’s competitors) sold it for a whopping £5 million: 1,428 times what the anonymous buyer bought it for!
A spokesman for Christie’s has stood by the original statement and said “We took the view at the time of our sale in 2013 that it was by a ‘follower of’. We understand that there is no clear consensus of expertise on the new attribution”
Experts say that the original owner, Lady Hambleden, can sue auctioneers Christie’s if it is proven that they were negligent in carrying out the checks to estimate the value of the painting.
I think we can all learn here never to judge a painting by its top layer!
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