Whoops! See the Reattributed George Stubbs Painting Called ‘One of the Biggest Deaccessioning Blunders of All Time’

The buyer bet big on a hunch that the work was the real deal.

George Stubbs, Two saddled horses, one ridden by a groom. The painting was deaccessioned by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Courtesy of Roderick McKenzie Smith.

In what can only be described as a dream come true for an art buyer, an eagle-eyed Old Master dealer is set to exhibit a newly reattributed George Stubbs painting at the upcoming British Art Dealers Association (BADA) fair in London, that opens March 15.

Dealer Archie Parker, of London’s Parker Gallery, had a hunch when he spotted an image of the work, which was being deaccessioned by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, at a Christie’s auction.

artnet News reached out to Parker for comment but had not received a response by publication time.

According to a report in the Guardian, Parker saw the painting, which had a modest $3,000–5,000 estimate—and no reserve, or minimum price—and immediately thought it was the real deal. “Further research stiffened his resolve,” according to the Guardian.

Indeed, according to the artnet Price Database, works by Stubbs—famous for his elegant equestrian scenes—have fetched eight-figure prices on several occasions. The current auction record for the artist is £22.4 million ($36 million), set at Christie’s London in July 2011, for Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a trainer, jockey and stable lad.

The second highest auction price, of £10 million ($15.9 million), was achieved at Sotheby’s London in 2010, for Brood mares and foals (circa 1768). Of the roughly 365 lots recorded in the price database, 19 works by Stubbs have fetched more than $1 million each at auction.

When the current work was offered for sale at a smaller Christie’s sale, titled “Living with Art,” last June, it was catalogued as “After George Stubbs,” and given the title, Two saddled horses, one ridden by a groom, and dated 1789.

Parker thinks other dealers had a similar reaction to the work, based on the competitive bidding that ensued at the auction. The hammer price soared to $175,000. With auction premium, the final price came to $215,000.

Parker told the Guardian: “It is a lot of money if you’re wrong. When you’re bidding, you do think: ‘What have I just done? Am I completely mad?’”

Apparently not, since Parker now has a quadruple mark-up asking price of £750,000 ($915,000) on the work. He said he would ask for even more, except for the public—and now widely known—purchase price of $215,000, paid less than a year ago.

Old Master expert Bendor Grosvenor, who pens the blog Art History News, called the incident “one of the biggest deaccessioning blunders of all time.” According to his blog entry, at the time of the sale:

Its status as ‘not Stubbs’ is new. The picture is listed in the recent Yale catalogue raisonné as a genuine work by Stubbs. It was acquired by the Huntington as a Stubbs. It is signed (lower right) and is on panel, as is often the case with Stubbs.

According to the Guardian report, the painting was gifted to the Huntington as a Stubbs in 1958. Ensuing confusion over its authenticity stemmed from the fact that there is another version of the same scene in the Ambrose Clarke collection of sporting paintings. They were conflated into one painting in the 2007 catalogue raisonné of Stubbs paintings, which led to the assumption that the Huntington painting was a copy.

The British Art Dealers Association Fair is on view at the Duke of York Square, off Sloane Square, London, March 15—21.

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