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UPDATE on the VAN DYCK ‘SELFIE’

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Did Lord Inglewood help Philip Mould milk the nation, turning a blind eye to a faked provenance and other scholarly corruption in the sale of the £10 million Van Dyck Self Portrait to the London National Gallery in 2014?

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In the ongoing investigation of a Self Portrait attributed to Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599 – 1641) and now in the National Portrait Gallery (Mail on Sunday 26 April 2020), another part of the scam is brought to light – a faked provenance. This faked provenance was presented by expert advisor Christopher Baker (Scotland National Portrait Gallery) to the England Arts Council in September 2013. His expertise formed the basis of the council’s decision whether the painting should be allowed to leave the country, having been sold to a British businessman who wanted to take it to the USA. If the export was blocked the immediate effect would be a high-profile fundraising drive to raise £10 million from the nation in order to buy the painting from Philip Mould and associates.

Three other independent experts were also employed, supposedly to verify Baker’s documentation, including the provenance as he listed it. Provenance in art buying and selling means establishing where a painting came from, who had it over the years, and how its whereabouts can be linked to the claimed original artist. Dr Stephen Duffy, a senior curator at The Wallace Collection, Robert Holden a private London dealer (now deceased), and Lucy Whitaker, a senior curator at The Royal Collections Trust, were given time to study and research Baker’s scholarly efforts, and to present any contradictions or criticisms, but didn’t have any.

Yet in reality, the painting’s provenance had been faked front and back. Moreover, Baker’s citing the painting as “always” being considered an original work by Sir Anthony Van Dyck was a false statement. The painting was actually always considered to be a copy, that is, by experts prior to the twentieth century. Gustave Glück (1941) and Eric Larsen (1988) published the work as a copy. Even if Baker disagreed with this he needed to say why. Yet he didn’t even mention their names. It was only Oliver Millar (d.2009) in 1982 who decided to make this the painting that was the “Van Dyck”, and even he expressed doubts – it is simply, he said, one of the best of the surviving versions.

How is it that a qualified British curator was able to write such trite nonsense about a work of art being considered for national importance, and how is that three independent experts approved his unresearched drivel? Baker’s efforts wouldn’t even pass at “A” Level.

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At a Sotheby’s auction in 2009, when Philip Mould and his American partner Alfred Bader bid £8.3 million for a Self-Portrait attributed to Sir Anthony Van Dyck then owned by the 10th Earl of Jersey, the Lot Notes indicated the origins of the painting before the eighteenth-century were unknown.

Sotheby’s postulated the portrait was “possibly” in the collection of Sir Peter Lely (1618–1680), as an oval self-portrait of Van Dyck is therein listed. The painting is then said to have been, possibly, in Lely’s estate sale after he died, and possibly thereafter in the possession of the 1st Earl of Bradford (d.1708). For what is known, a work matching the current description is only first definitively recognized as being in the collection of Robert Child (1739–1782) in Osterley Park.

From there it passed by descent to the Earls of Jersey, it is said, ending up in Middleton Park in Oxfordshire, from where it was now being sold, according to Sotheby’s. This last impression also turns out to be false.

93BAD949 FDC2 4177 BB29 74C84C026521BBC’s fake or fortune hunter and London art dealer, Philip Mould, who brokered the sale of the Van Dyck Self-Portrait to the nation in 2014, for a price tag of £10 million

Considering this stated provenance, it leads to the appearance the painting, the property of the Earls of Jersey, came from Middleton Park – the last stated location in Sotheby’s catalogue. Yet, in reality when this supposed Van Dyck Self-Portrait was placed at Sotheby’s for auction in 2009, it physically came from the Island of Jersey, which is where it had been since 1949 (a period of sixty years). The 9th Earl of Jersey had actually sold Middleton Park, and had given Osterley Park to the nation, that is, just after the Second World War. He then built Radier Manor in Jersey, where he moved with his third wife, Bianca Mottironi.

To understand the supposed Van Dyck Self-Portrait physical origins, in 2009, that is, from the island of Jersey, you have to read a different section in Sotheby’s catalogue where it states the work was exhibited in 1952 as part of collections on the island. In 2009 Jersey was part of the United Kingdom, but not part of Great Britain, and was significantly not in the European Union. The painting was therefore only a temporary import permit to be sold in London in 2009. If it wasn’t sold it could be returned to Jersey as if it had never left.

England or Jersey, and does it matter?

This fake claim of the painting’s last provenance, as somehow being at Middleton Park in England, was regurgitated in the England Arts Council export license appeal. In the provenance prepared by the considered expert Christopher Baker, the word Jersey as a place name is nowhere to be found. Yet, in the England Arts Council documents from 2013 it states, mysteriously, the painting has a 5% Import VAT due, which could only be if the painting was still not (yet) in circulation in the European Union. In other words, was it still on temporary export from Jersey when the application was made in 2013? It does appear a British owner was seeking an export license from Britain, for a painting which was still on a temporary export license from Jersey.

And all of this makes sense and no sense. The painting wasn’t yet clearly imported into Britain, from Jersey, when an export license was applied for to export it to the United States? Indeed, Jersey falls under the jurisdiction of the English Arts Council, but they could also have insisted the painting stay in Jersey, which is where it had been for fifty years prior to the Sotheby’s 1949 auction? The Sotheby’s catalogue also says nothing about an export license, only about the 5% Import VAT.

Clarity can be perhaps be found in that it wasn’t actually Philip Mould Ltd (London) who bought the painting in 2009, it was Alfred Bader Fine Arts, a Milwaukee company. This is also not stated in Baker’s England Art Council expertise, which lists Philip Mould Ltd in the provenance and not Alfred Bader Fine Arts. Indeed, nothing makes sense as to why Alfred Bader, a renowned philanthropist who happily donated Rembrandts, bought the painting in the first place, that is, if it was only very quickly to try reselling it to a national institution, as the pair did already in 2010. This was the first time they tried to sell the work to the National Portrait Gallery, at that moment for £9.5 million, an attempt which failed. It is also not explained by Alfred Bader didn’t apply for an export license in 2010, as surely he wanted the painting, so why leave it in England?

What is significant is the provenance of immediate origin was obscured in September 2013, when Inglewood’s council met, as it arrogantly believed it alone should decide the painting’s fate. He simply overlooked the portrait’s Jersey provenance and placed a temporary three-month export ban on the painting leaving England, despite technically it was only in England for temporary display purposes anyway.

The Peter Lely “copy”

Ominously, the situation of the painting’s actual origins from Jersey in 2009 wasn’t the only thing wrong with the painting’s stated provenance when Christopher Baker prepared his expertise for the England Arts Council in 2013. The provenance at the beginning of the painting’s supposed history had also by then been manipulated.

As already mentioned, in the Sotheby’s catalogue of 2009 it claimed the Van Dyck Self-Portrait might have been (possibly) in the collection of Sir Peter Lely. Yet, by the time Baker was preparing his expertise for the England Arts Council in 2013, he was claiming the National Portrait Gallery’s Van Dyck Self-Portrait had been (firmly and securely) in Peter Lely’s collection, and therefore was the very (original) painting sold from Lely’s estate in 1682 (undoubtedly). How had Baker achieved this new certainty?

Baker’s new bold claim in 2013 that the painting had been very definitely-definitely in Peter Lely’s collection was based on the very sudden appearance of a mysterious never-before-seen “Peter Lely copy after Van Dyck”, that seemed to somehow luckily appear in the hands of Philip Mould Ltd around that time. On this issue Baker obviously took Mould’s word for it, Mould’s explanation for it, and did no independent research of his own.

Had Baker done so he would have realized that in 1941 Gustave Glück had published a proposed Lely copy of this composition (Mould’s handless Van Dyck in a clown suit portrait, in other words). Baker might have disagreed with Glück and agreed with Mould, but Baker has a scholarly obligation to not only mention it but also to support his observations.

 383F2B4A 8482 4D27 ADDC 47C62DB9CD62Left, the painting published by Glück in 1941; right, the painting “discovered” by Mould in 2014. These are clearly not the same painting, so one is a forgery.

 Mould’s supposed “Lely copy after the very original Van Dyck” turned up at just the very moment it was needed for him to “prove” the newly updated “provenance” of his Van Dyck “Selfie”. In other words, Philip Mould suggested to Baker, and Baker bought it, that the “Lely copy after Van Dyck” was exactly the same as the painting up for export license control, somehow proving Lely “owned” the Mould Van Dyck (otherwise how would he have been able to copy it?).

Contorted logic

This contorted logic relied on two assumptions. One Mould’s “Lely” was genuine. The second assumption is that the “Mould Lely” somehow proved Lely had a “Van Dyck”. Why? A “Van Dyck self-portrait” listed in Lely’s collection could have been simply that – a Lely. In other words, even an original Lely turning up would not turn the “possibly in Lely’s collection” in the Mould Van Dyck provenance to a “definitely-definitely in Lely’s collection”.

Mould’s assistant Bendor Grosvenor blogged about this miraculous “discovery” of the “Lely copy after Van Dyck” early in 2014. He claimed “Lely even made his own copy ..., which we recently discovered here at Philip Mould & Co.” The sudden miracle was nothing if not convenient. After Mould’s Van Dyck was sold to the nation in 2014, this supposed “Lely” went to whereabouts unknown. It is not without mention that around this time Philip Mould was often in contact with the convicted American forger Tony Tetro, and even made an episode of “Fake or Fortune?” that featured him.

A0807FF2 B6F1 49ED 8DF8 D7FCA5D79DA8“Look! I’ve got the same blobs (and a fake signature)!” Far left, the miraculous never-before-seen supposed “Sir Peter Lely copy after Van Dyck”, which Philip Mould suddenly produced in 2014. Middle, the “blobs” revealed by an Infrared of the Van Dyck Self-Portrait. Right, the questionable Van Dyck Self-Portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Mould’s claim this “Lely” was actually a seventeenth-century original lay in a few blobs that had appeared in the Van Dyck Self-Portrait Infrared. These same “blobs” he said were on the “Lely”. Indeed, these “blobs” just draw our attention to the signature. An employee of the London National Portrait Gallery expressed doubts about the authenticity of this signature, which deviates from the “Lely” published by Glück. Note there are no mystery “blobs” on the version published in Glück, with the elegant “L” signature quite different to the one in the Mould version.

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Notably, the Mould “Lely” is an exact “copy” of how the dubious Van Dyck Self-Portrait looks now, and is not a copy of how it would have looked before it was overpainted in recent times (these overpaints visible in an Ultraviolet available only among files still hidden away by the National Portrait Gallery). This is impossible if the Mould “Lely” was indeed painted by Lely in the seventeenth century (unless, of course, he had a crystal ball).

Trapping

It is clear that with this new claim suddenly presented by Philip Mould in 2014 to “secure” a supposedly firm Provenance for the NPG “selfie” dating back to Sir Peter Lely, together with other fake scholarly claims made by Christopher Baker, and with the fake temporary export ban in place, the nation could be whipped up in a public fundraising drive, the aim to raise the price-tag of £10 million. After this successful 2014 campaign, the Mould “Lely” subsequently and conveniently disappeared.

It is ironic that in the same year the country was whipped into paranoia about a claimed Van Dyck Self-Portrait “leaving the United Kingdom forever”, Philip Mould published in The Telegraph about what he has coined art market “trapping” (January 2014). “Art experts warn of the rise of the ‘trappers’,” was the title. Mould claimed these “trappers”, among other dubious practices, manipulate the provenance of paintings by making claims that are not exactly false, but are not true either. In the fanciful way he managed to manipulate the situation in 2014, he has indeed hoisted himself on his own trapper, behaving like the conmen he was supposedly outing in that article?

The Telegraph article ended with this promise. “Martin Fisher, from the Trading Standards Institute, said: ‘If a business is making false statements, suggesting something has a particular provenance, when in fact it is demonstrably false, then we could certainly take action’.” Given Mould, supported by Christopher Baker and Lord Inglewood, made numerous false claims in the provenance of the Van Dyck Self-Portrait in 2013/14, leading the nation to stump up £10 million for it, let’s hope Martin Fisher speaks the truth about what he would do, and the generous British donors get their money back.

What was the rush?

For Philip Mould, Lord Inglewood’s temporary export ban had the desired effect. The direct result of that September 2013 meeting of England’s Arts Council was to whip up a razzmatazz fundraising drive, very publicly supported by the Crown with the Duchess of Cambridge the London National Portrait Gallery’s patron. And indeed, the prospective owner gracefully bowed out, so there was ample time for circumspection. Once this happened, the painting wasn’t going anywhere.

Even if Philip Mould didn’t make a huge relative profit, well not the one he was supposedly going to make selling the painting to the British/Los Angeles buyer in 2013, who was the reason for the export application in the first place. Nevertheless, the deal did turn a substantial profit for someone – £1.7 million. So, this was never about “philanthropy”.

Significantly, if this supposed Van Dyck “selfie” had been the most fabulous Van Dyck ever, someone other than just Oliver Millar would have written about it being a masterpiece, that is in the supposed almost four hundred years of its existence. Yet, cloistered away from public eye in Osterley Park, and then quietly removed to Jersey in 1949, no other Van Dyck expert ever wrote about this painting, except to say it was a copy.

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first published 3/7/2020

by Dr. Susan Grundy 

 

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