A Rubens painting in the National Gallery is not authentic, an art historian has said.
Samson and Delilah, which depicts the Old Testament figure in the lap of a lover who has betrayed him, was bought by Christie’s in 1980 for £2.5m, then the second-highest price ever paid for a painting at the time. auction.
Some critics believe that the work, which only came to light in 1929, is a copy of a lost original that Rubens painted around 1609.
Purchased from German dealers by a Paris conservator, it was declared a Rubens by the now discredited German scholar Ludwig Burchard, who, after his death in 1960, was found to have misattributed paintings for commercial gain.
Historian and author Euphrosyne Doxiadis has raised further questions about the painting’s provenance by saying that a former trustee of the National Gallery, Sir Isaiah Berlin, told her shortly before his death that he wanted “the truth to come out” about Samson and Delilah.
He said Sir Isaiah, a British philosopher, had initially changed the subject when he criticized the painting at a dinner party in Athens in 1997.
But she claimed that he later approached her and said, “Write to [fellow trustee] Sir Keith Thomas…tell him for me that the truth will come out eventually – it always does – and the sooner it comes out the better.”
When another guest and historian accompanied Sir Isaiah to his hotel, he reportedly told her, “Your friend is right about the Rubens.”
Sir Isaiah died months later and Mrs Doxiadis made unsuccessful attempts to contact Sir Keith. Even the Telegraph was unable to reach him.
The claims have reignited the dispute over authenticity.
‘in favor of the truth’
Henry Hardy, Sir Isaiah’s editor and one of his literary trustees, said: “Berlin was certainly pro-truth and anti-censorship.”
Hardy located a letter from 1968, in which Berlin wrote: “Everything must be published: small and large, black and white, embarrassing and ennobling.”
Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, a museum watchdog, said: “Berlin made it clear there was something to get out. Coming from someone like that, it’s serious. This will shock them.
Mr Daley, who researched the painting extensively, said that “the National Gallery sums never came back”.
“Its 1983 technical bulletin referred to its planed fragment of a board, less than 3mm thick and glued onto modern blockboard,” he added.
“But when exhibited in 1977 and sold in 1980, the picture had been described as having an oak panel, with eyewitnesses recalling that it was folded over and braced at the rear with cross braces.”
Planed ‘during the present century’
He also claims to have found Burchard’s 1930 certificate of authenticity in the painting’s dossiers, updating it to Rubens by Gerard van Honthorst, the Dutch artist.
“The Technical Bulletin stated that the planing had occurred ‘probably during the current century,'” he said. “But Burchard said the oak panel of the picture was in excellent condition and ‘even retained the original back’.”
Critics have argued that the colors are not subtle and unusual of Rubens’ palette and question why the composition differs from two contemporary copies made of Rubens’ original.
But the National Gallery has refused to acknowledge the artistic, technical or historical challenges.
“Not transparent or responsive”
Ms Doxiadis told The Telegraph: ‘The National Gallery has certainly not been transparent or responsive in examining these long-running and very serious questions about a publicly owned painting in its care.’
Ms Doxiadis published her latest research on UnHerd, the news and opinion website.
He claims that the picture was actually painted by Gaston Lévi, a Madrid-trained conservator: “This helps explain why the palette and brushwork in the contested work are so close to Spanish Neo-Impressionism, and so far removed from 17th-century Flanders. .”
A National Gallery spokesman said: “Samson and Delilah has long been accepted by leading Rubens scholars as a Peter Paul Rubens masterpiece.
“Painted on panel in oil shortly after his return to Antwerp in 1608 and demonstrating all that the artist had learned in Italy, it is a work of the highest aesthetic quality.
“A technical examination of the image was presented in an article in the National Gallery Technical Bulletin in 1983. The results remain valid.”