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Van Dyck proves to be genuine

03 January 2014

BBC

Hidden treasure: Fr Jamie MacLeod and the portrait, with Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould

Hidden treasure: Fr Jamie MacLeod and the portrait, with Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould

WHEN Fr Jamie MacLeod, an Old Catholic priest, chose to buy a portrait rather than a bookshelf, at an emporium in Nantwich, Cheshire, it was partly because of its attractive gold frame, and partly a matter of price. At £400, the portrait was cheaper.

Ten years later, it transpires that the picture, which has been hanging on the wall of Whaley Hall, the retreat house that he runs in Derbyshire, is actually worth £400,000. The 17th-century portrait of a magistrate of Brussels, painted by the Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck, is the most valuable painting that has ever featured on BBC TV's Antiques Roadshow.

"I wanted to know more about it, and I decided that one day we would go to Newstead Abbey, where the Antiques Roadshow were coming," Fr MacLeod said on Monday, the day after the programme was broadcast. "It was [the show's presenter] Fiona Bruce who said 'come to London'. She knows Philip Mould personally, and he, Christopher Brown, and Bendor Grosvenor are the three leading people in the world on Van Dyck."

Ms Bruce had a "hunch" about the portrait, having recently made a programme about the artist.

It took forensic imaging to identify the portrait beneath another one that had been painted over it. Restoration has been completed, and confirms that the painting was completely produced by Van Dyck rather than in collaboration with students, Fr MacLeod said. The painting is one of only three of a set of seven portraits to have survived a town hall fire.

Mr Mould told the BBC: "Discoveries of this type are exceptionally rare. The painting's emergence from beneath layers of paint was dramatic." Although there have been reports that he would sell the portrait to pay to have the bells at Whaley Hall restored, Fr MacLeod said on Monday that he hoped to raise the £150,000 from donations, in time to have bells ring a peal to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

"If that came to fruition in time for 2018, then the portrait could go on show in a national museum, because it would be nice for it to stay in this country rather than it go abroad," he said.

frjamie@talktalk.net

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