Lecturer discovers £3m masterpiece
Mystery painting is work of Velazquez
Published 29/10/2011 | 05:00
A LECTURER who helped prove that a mystery painting, originally thought to be worth £300 (€341), was in fact a masterpiece worth £3m (€3.41m) last night admitted he was sceptical when first asked to investigate.
Trinity College academic Dr Peter Cherry's efforts ensured that the work has been verified as a previously unknown painting by the celebrated Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.
Regarded as one of the greatest painters in history, less than 100 paintings survive by Velazquez today -- hence its multimillion pound price tag.
The 350-year-old portrait arrived at Bonhams in Oxford, England, last August in a consignment of works by Matthew Shepperson, a jobbing 19th-Century English artist.
While the other paintings were given estimates of a few hundred pounds apiece, the portrait of a gentleman in black tunic and white collar struck the auction house as the work of a different artist.
However, some details in the painting aroused interest, which led auctioneers Bonhams to have it examined by their director of old masters, Andrew McKenzie.
He in turn contacted Dr Cherry, an expert in the work of Velazquez.
"Peter got very excited when he walked into the room and saw the painting. The more time he spent looking at it, the more he felt it was a Velazquez. With great pictures the more you look at it, the more you get out of them, and that was certainly the case with this," Mr McKenzie told the Irish Independent.
However, the 50-year-old Dublin academic said he started from a position of scepticism. "You really need to be cautious in these situations. Academics receive emails all the time," he said.
"But I could see from the first image I was sent that it might be worth investigating further. It wasn't until I had viewed the painting, and we had technical analysis done, that we knew it was consistent with what we knew about other Velazquez's paintings," said the scholar.
Further examination and an X-ray confirmed the work to be Velazquez. Dr Cherry said the most intriguing aspect to the work, believed to date from between 1631 and 1635, is the identity of the unknown sitter.
"The man isn't royalty or a nobleman. Therefore he could be a close friend of Velazquez who he wanted to paint. By identifying who he is , we could learn an awful lot about the life and associates of the painter," he said.
Born in Seville in 1599, Velazquez is universally acknowledged as one of the world's greatest artists.