A Painting That Hung for Generations in a Family’s Living Room in Spain Has Been Identified as a Van Dyck Masterpiece

The work could be worth millions.

An Anthony van Dyck exhibition at the Alte Pinakothek in in Munich, Germany, in 2019. Photo by Lino Mirgeler/picture alliance/dpa via Getty Images.

For generations, a family in Jaén, Spain, didn’t think much about the large religious painting hanging prominently in their living room. Now, it’s been identified as a masterpiece by 17th-century Baroque Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, and it could be primed for a multimillion dollar sale to the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville.

“They saw it as something normal, a part of their daily lives,” Luis Baena, the family’s lawyer, told local news outlet the Olive Press.

The family, which wishes to remain anonymous, has not released photographs of the painting, The Presentation of the Baby Jesus to Saint Barbara. A Madrid art company authenticated the work last year, and it has undergone a careful restoration since its rediscovery. The painting is now being stored in an insurance company’s safe deposit box.

“If, as it seems, it is a Van Dyck, anything that enriches the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts is of interest to us, of course it is,” a spokesperson for the Andalusian Ministry of Culture, which manages the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, told El País, confirming that the museum has been in touch with the family.

Anthony van Dyck, preparatory sketch for <em>The Magistrates of Brussels</em> (ca. 1634). Courtesy of Christie's London.

Anthony van Dyck, preparatory sketch for The Magistrates of Brussels (ca. 1634). Courtesy of Christie’s London.

A number of auction houses have reportedly reached out about potentially selling the work, but the owner “does have a special interest in it staying in Seville, the city where the family now lives,” Baena told El País.

There was a considerable Flemish presence in Seville in the 17th-century, with more than a hundred families from the ethnic group, which hails from Flanders, Belgium, believed to have lived in the Spanish city. That could be how the painting came to belong to the family, who also lived in Seville at the time.

As of yet, there is no estimate to the rediscovered Van Dyck’s potential value, but the artist’s record at auction is £8.3 million ($13.25 million), according to the Artnet Price Database. That mark was set in 2009 for the artist’s last self portrait. The work is now in the collection of London’s National Portrait Gallery, after the museum successfully raised £10 million ($16 million) to match the purchase price of a private collector who intended to export it to the U.S.

More recently, the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest purchased Van Dyck’s Portrait of Princess Mary from Christie’s London for £5.85 million ($7.5 million) in 2018.

Anthony van Dyck, A Study for Saint Jerome (1615–18). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

Anthony van Dyck, A Study for Saint Jerome (1615–18). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Van Dyck rediscoveries have had mixed results at auction over the last decade.

In 2014, a British priest named Jamie MacLeod took a small oil sketch he had purchased for £400 to the Antiques Roadshow. The appraisers revealed it was a study for Van Dyck’s Magistrates of Brussels, a group portrait for the city’s town hall destroyed by warfare in 1695. But when Christie’s London offered it at auction with a high estimate of £500,000 ($856,000), it failed to find a buyer.

In January, however, a Van Dyck oil sketch of Saint Jerome sold for more than $3 million at Sotheby’s New York. An elderly but eagle-eyed collector named Albert B. Roberts had bought the cracked panel-mounted canvas—which was covered in bird poop on the back—for just $600 from a shed in Kinderhook, New York, before having it authenticated as the work of the Flemish master. Roberts died at age 89 in 2021, and part of the proceeds of the sale of the work went to his charity, the Albert B. Roberts Foundation, which provides financial support to artists.


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