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Art Theft

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The real reason Philip Mould was in such a hurry to dump his fake Van Dyck “Selfie”on the British nation in 2014


91E8C5BE 2826 4A7A 8CA9 CFE2A78D3060Don’t let a Van Dyck “Selfie” come between us! Philip Mould and assistant Bendor Grosvenor pictured in February 2014

Early in May 2014, with tremendous public fanfare and plenty of behind the scenes shenanigans – lies about provenance, obscured expert opinion, and even producing a forged painting said to be a “Peter Lely” – BBC fake or fortune hunter and London art dealer Philip Mould was able to bank a cheque for £10 million, made out to him by the British taxpayer. It was the end of a sweaty period, as he managed finally to sell a supposed self-portrait by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641) to the nation (Mail on Sunday 26 April 2020). He had been trying since 2010, having inexplicably dumped £8.3 million of someone else’s money onto Sotheby’s auction table in 2009 for this dodgy upgraded rubbish copy owned by the Earl of Jersey. Mould’s supposed Van Dyck self-portrait wasn’t right, and Mould knew it wasn’t right. The sweat had become: where was he going to get £8.3 million to appease his customer, the person he bought it for, the Milwaukee businessman and philanthropist Alfred Bader?

5B656D0C ADE1 41F7 9D61 5E8A3E797F2BSeventeenth Century: A drawing by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, a Self-Portrait,by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, an anonymous portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, and a copy of the anonymous portrait by Sir Peter Lely

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Philip Mould and Alfred Bader’s supposed Van Dyck “Selfie” was flung about in the British press early in in 2014 as being in need of saving, as it was said to be in imminent danger of ending up in Los Angles – a fate worse than the disappearance of Marmite.

Notably, the British press were gasping for breath. It was a high-profile “Campaign to save the last Van Dyck self-portrait for the UK.” However, in the fog of all the razzmatazz it wasn’t clear if this was the last one as in the last one in the shop, or the last one as in the last one the artist made. This is of significance. As after the British taxpayer “saved this last one” in 2014 – just over a year later another last one appeared. Can you have more than one last painting? It would appear so, that is, if you are Philip Mould and Bendor Grosvenor.

5B878025 9666 4D3E A315 5E9212017738Which is the real last Van Dyck Self-Portrait, because it cannot both be? Left, a painting considered the last self-portrait of Van Dyck now on display in Antwerp, and right, a painting considered the last self-portrait of Van Dyck now on display in London


Tuesday 8 March 2016, that is two years after Philip Mould sold the last self-portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck to the British nation for £10 million, another last self-portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck turned up on display at Rubenshuis in Antwerp. It is the same unusual format (oval) depicting the artist in similar pose, but with a left hand raised to the buttons of the coat. This painting had featured in a scholarly article written for The British Art Journal at the end of 2015 – a piece penned by none other than Philip Mould’s assistant, Bendor Grosvenor (although by then no longer Philip Mould’s assistant). In this article Grosvenor claimed we should reconsider whether Mould’s painting, the one by then hanging in the London National Portrait Gallery, was indeed the last one.

“It may be that the Jersey picture should be seen as a study, Van Dyck’s first attempt at the creation of a new type of self-portrait (he was previously content to re-use the same head type in different compositions). If this thesis is accepted, then the dating of the National Portrait Gallery picture, currently thought to be c.1640, may need to be re-considered, to perhaps between 1637– 9.”

It is not a big deal to re-date any painting. However, what is a big deal is Bendor Grosvenor’s role in claiming that the painting sold to the nation for £10 million in 2014 was a last self-portrait – of such value it must not be allowed to leave the country. It is undeniable that this “last” assumption helped to whip up public sentiment. He also, in contradiction to his 2015 article, by association supported the scholarly deceits that accompanied the upgrading, rebranding and the auctioning of the Jersey painting as a Van Dyck “original” despite until 1982 everyone considered it just another “copy”.

The panic generated about the “last” painting leaving England in 2013 was surely all a ruse. It had nothing to do with Mould selling the painting to a Los Angeles-based businessman. The truth is another painting had been discovered, and it really was the Van Dyck and it really did appear to be the last one painted and it really kicked the dreadful Mould painting to touch. It also really belonged, certainly by the end of 2015, to Bendor Grosvenor.

So, in essence here is the truth.

In 2013 when Philip Mould started the rumbling about the big campaign needed to buy his painting to keep it in the UK, he already knew very well that there was a contender that could rise up to replace his. It wasn’t about artistic sentiment or even shrewd dealership. It was about getting to the public for their hard-earned cash, that is, before his assistant Bendor Grosvenor did. And it was the British public who forked it over to the winner. 

About the Author

Dr Susan Grundy

Dr Susan Grundy

Dr Susan Grundy, D Litt et Phil, University of South Africa   Susan Grundy is an independent Art Investigation Consultant, patron and collector of fine art, specializing in Seventeenth Century ...