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Mystery painting

Posted in Art, Art competition, Mystery on Friday, 29 October 2010

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To celebrate the launch of our £2 image educational licensing initiative, we are running a competition to identity the artist of the painting below. The prize for the first person to identify the artist is £100. The closing date is 31 December 2010. In the event that no one is able to provide a credible identification with supporting evidence, the prize will go to the person who has most advanced the state of knowledge regarding the painting. In awarding the prize, the decision of Look and Learn will be final.

Venus and Cupid

The subject of the painting is Venus and Cupid – on that most experts agree. The problem is: who is the artist? The National Gallery told us they thought it was possibly associated with paintings by Lely at the court of king Charles II and referred us to the National Portrait Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery told us that the painting was certainly not by Lely and unlikely to have been painted in England and, suggesting that the painting was likely to be from the Low Countries, referred us to the RKD (the Netherlands Institute for Art History). The experts at the RKD did not think the painting was done in the Low Countries and, instead, suggested that it might be from France. The experts on French painting whom we have consulted have told us that it was unlikely to be French. One suggested it could be Italian.  Most of those who have seen the painting think it is mid 17th century. However, the V&A has pointed out that the use of black silk in earrings was an early rather than mid 17th century fashion.

Other more certain facts about the painting are as follows:

  • Dimensions: 29.75 inches by 33.5 inches, excluding frame.
  • Apparent indistinct residue of a signature in monogram form in the bottom right hand corner of the painting.
  • The number “97” is painted in large white numerals on the back of the canvas towards the bottom. No stickers or chalk marks. The canvas has been re-lined but not recently.
  • When the painting was recently restored, some re-touching was done, mainly to the lady’s chest.
  • The furniture dealer on the South Coast from whom we bought the painting told us nothing of the painting’s provenance other than that it had come from an “ordinary home”.

A number of experts have commented how odd it is that a painting of such obvious quality should so stubbornly resist attribution.

But perhaps a more expert expert is reading this and will be able to claim his/her £100.

3 comments on “Mystery painting”

  1. 1. casimir says:

    Further to my previous post it has just occurred to me that this is a fragment of a larger composition. This would explain why she is looking off to the left at whatever it is that cupid is pointing to – there was originally something there – it would also account for the slightly odd size of the canvas. It is quite common for large canvases to be cut up in this way for various reasons, commercial or prudish. Cupid’s hold on her breast incidentally echoes that of Cupid in the famous Bronzino Allegory in the National Gallery.

  2. 2. mariar says:

    The artist of the a.m. painting is Peter Paul Rubens. In 1630 the painter married Helene Fourment who inspired him for Venus figures too. If you look at the portrait of Helene Fourmet “Het Pelsken” you can easily recognise her in the figure of Venus.

  3. 3. Laurence Heyworth says:

    The prize is awarded to “mariar”. This is not because we think the painting is by Rubens (there are many stylistic details that are not consistent with Rubens). But facially our Venus does seem to owe something to Helene Fourment and/or Rubens’ pictures inspired by her. This perhaps points to our picture being by a follower of Rubens, maybe in the generation after Rubens.

    Laurence Heyworth
    Look and Learn

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