This Newly Restored Quentin Metsys Painting Is Poised to Shatter His Auction Record

The painting went off the radar for centuries and has now been restored to its earlier glory.

Quentin Metsys, The Madonna of the Cherries, after conservation. Courtesy Christie’s.

Christie’s London will offer a glowing Quentin Metsys painting, The Madonna of the Cherries, this summer. Priced at a level that would far surpass the artist’s current auction high, it boasts an intriguing provenance and has only re-emerged as a signature work by the artist after extensive conservation treatment.

Going on offer at an Old Masters sale on July 2, the panel painting is expected to fetch as much as £12 million ($15.2 million). Metsys’s current auction record was achieved for his painting Mary in Prayer at Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne, in 2020, when it went for $1.9 million against a high estimate of about $848,000. 

The work has been copied and painted in numerous variants. Four other paintings of the same subject went to auction between 2000 and 2009, according to the Artnet Price Database, the priciest selling at Christie’s New York in 2006 for $744,000 against a high estimate of $200,000. 

Metsys is represented in illustrious collections internationally. The National Gallery in London organized a 2023 exhibition around his iconic painting The Ugly Duchess (ca. 1513); the institution owns some 11 works by him and his workshop. Another famed work, The Moneylender and his Wife (1514), hangs across the English channel at the Louvre, which has 10. Other examples hang in museums such as the Prado in Madrid and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. 

A painting of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child

Quentin Metsys, The Madonna of the Cherries, before conservation. Courtesy Christie’s.

“We are delighted to be offering this work by Quentin Metsys that has only recently been recognized as the prime version of his celebrated late masterpiece—The Madonna of the Cherries—which helped cement his reputation as the founder of the Antwerp School of painting,” says Henry Pettifer, international deputy chairman for Old Master paintings. 

Standing about 2½ feet tall, the panel painting has a colorful provenance. Wealthy Antwerp spice merchant Cornelis van der Geest owned it in 1615 when Archduke Albert VII of Austria and Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia visited him and offered to buy the painting, which Christie’s said was his most treasured possession. It was so significant that it would figure prominently in a painting commemorating the visit dating to some 13 years later: Willem van Haecht’s The Cabinet of Cornelis van der Geest, now in the Rubenshuis, Antwerp, which shows a cast of luminaries in an art gallery and Van der Geest gesturing toward the Metsys work. 

The artwork disappears from the historical record after the death of its owner, wealthy Antwerp linen merchant and collector Peter Stevens, in 1668; Stevens was an executor of Van der Geest’s estate, and, according to one monograph on Metsys, also owned his painting The Moneylender and his Wife.

It does not resurface until 1920, by which time the composition had been altered with the addition of a curtain over the window. There was other heavy overpainting, and the varnish had disclored. With all these changes, it was not thought to be the same painting, such that it was sold at Christie’s London in 2015, when it was attributed to his studio; it fetched just $391,357 against a high estimate of $123,020.

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