Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Portrait of Archbishop William Laud" Attracts Controversy

A couple of weeks ago, the museum issued a press release highlighting its acquisitions in calendar year 2015, including a large portrait of Archbishop William Laud by Anthony van Dyck and studio (pictured above in a low-resolution version). The credit line on the image that ended up going out to the press through UGA's News Service deleted the "and studio" part, for space and because they are not art historians (we don't expect them to be!). When read without that caption, the release suggested that the museum believed the painting was by Van Dyck alone, and a high-profile art history blog quickly picked up on that fact.

From that point, other news sites and newspapers wrote their own versions of the story. Some of them contacted us for information. Others did not.

We have created a FAQ that appears below in the interest of accuracy. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and we will do our best to address them and add both questions and answers to this post.


Q. Who painted this portrait of Archbishop Laud?

A. The painting is attributed to Anthony van Dyck and studio. The credit line for the image of our painting that appeared on the news.uga.edu website was edited to remove “and studio.” Our version of the press release, sent through MailChimp, only included an image of the Frederick Frieseke painting the release also promoted. It is unambiguously listed as “Anthony van Dyck and his studio” in the deed of gift in the museum’s files.

Q. Didn’t you edit your press release after the fact?

A. We did, to make the authorship of the painting clearer, but we included a note saying the release had been edited and why, to be as transparent as possible. We assumed, with the original release, that the credit line appearing with the image would make it clear who painted it, but the image and the release have not always appeared together. Lesson learned.

Q. Did the museum know the painting is one of several versions of the same image?

A. Yes. Contrary to the news stories that have appeared, we were fully aware that this painting exists in several versions, including in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the National Portrait Gallery and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Q. Which is the original?

A. Scholarship tends to agree that the version in the Fitzwilliam is directly by the hand of Van Dyck, but it was not recognized as such until 1982, after cleaning and restoration, when Michael Jaffé made the case that it was by Van Dyck himself. Before that, the Fitzwilliam had catalogued it as “Studio of Van Dyck,” even though the collectors who donated it to the museum (Charles Ricketts and C.H. Shannon) believed it was by Van Dyck alone.

Q. Is the Georgia Museum of Art’s painting a “fake,” as Blouin/ArtInfo says?

A. Absolutely not! There is a big difference between a deliberate forgery and a painting created either as a collaboration between the artist and his studio or by the studio under the supervision of the artist. For example, Gilbert Stuart painted numerous versions of his Athenaeum portrait of George Washington, some with the assistance of his daughters (see, for example, the version at the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Q. Who gets to say whether or not it’s a Van Dyck?

A. This kind of work is what art historians do: research, comparison, careful argument. Our curator of European art believes strongly that the face and hands are by Van Dyck, with the clothing and drapery having been rendered by his studio, but it is rare that a definitive answer can be found, especially with a 17th-century work. The provenance (or ownership history) for the Georgia Museum of Art’s painting dates back to the mid-17th century.

Bendor Grosvenor, an English art historian, contends on his blog that our painting is only “studio of Van Dyck” at best but admits he has not seen it in person. Making judgments from photographs is difficult.

Erik Larsen’s 1988 catalogue raisonné lists the Hermitage and Fitzwilliam versions of the portrait (cat. nos. 896-97, pages 350-51) but writes that both were created with the artist’s studio. He mentions Jaffé’s article but writes, “Considering that Jaffé is the director of the Museum which owns the painting, his panegyric must be taken with a grain of salt.” Larsen then lists five studio replicas on pages 493-94 and writes that “There exist also a number of copies, both contemporary and later,” i.e., the National Portrait Gallery’s painting. Grosvenor, in the same blog entry, refers to Larsen’s work as “perhaps the most inept catalogue raisonné ever.”

Sammy J. Hardman, in his “Sir Anthony Van Dyck: The English Portraits” (1999, privately printed, cat. no. 103, pages 43-44) believes this version of the portrait may be the original or a prototype for it. He writes, “As compared with the other known portraits of Laud, the work is of excellent quality. X-ray studies of this work show emphatic pentimenti in the head as well as in the hands.” Hardman documents this version as having been sold at Christie’s on March 4, 1927 (no. 58), as a Van Dyck (although previously attributed, in 1876 and 1910, to Henry Stone, a contemporary and known copyist of Van Dyck’s; Hardman calls this an “old family attribution” and “without foundation”).

The 2004 catalogue raisonné of Van Dyck, published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art at Yale University, lists the version in the Fitzwilliam as the original (IV.153, pages 549-550). It then lists some of the “more important” copies but does not include the painting now at the Georgia Museum of Art.

[Edit 1/26/16 11:35 a.m.] Mary Louisa Boyle's "Biographical notices of the portraits at Hinchingbrook" (1876, Victoria press) lists it as "A Copy of Vandyck in Lambeth Palace. / By stone" on pages 61-62.

Q. Did the Georgia Museum of Art buy this painting?

A. We did not. The painting was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. M. Daniel Byrd, of Atlanta. The museum has a very limited budget for acquisitions, especially high-dollar ones. Any news sources that refer to our buying the painting are incorrect.

Q. How do objects come into the museum’s collection?

A. The Georgia Museum of Art has a collections committee that meets monthly to discuss potential accessions, whether through gift or purchase. The committee carefully assesses various factors, including quality, size (storage space is unfortunately limited), condition and whether a given work fits with the collections plan before agreeing to accept a particular object, even if that object is a gift.

Q. Why would you want this painting if you believed it was by Van Dyck and studio instead of by Van Dyck alone?

A. Our collection of European art, especially 17th-century European art, is very small. Even if the painting should turn out to be only studio of the artist, it would still fill a very large gap in our collection. Considering the fact that the National Portrait Gallery and the Hermitage both own copies of the same painting, we feel we are in very good company. In addition, an important part of our role as a university museum is to participate in and share the results of research. We invite any scholars to come study the painting.


Anonymous said...

Of all the drama! Communication is key. I find all the background information on acquisitions and accessions very interesting. Keep up the great work, GMOA!
-Tom Timberlake

Georgia Museum of Art said...

Thank you, Tom. We really are trying to be as open as possible about all of this.