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.