The loss of one auction house look set to be another’s gain in New York today as a John Constable painting mistakenly sold for £3,500 at Christie’s is expected to fetch a not-so-shabby £2 million at Sotheby’s.
Original artwork “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” was sold to an anonymous collector in 2013 after Christie’s valued it on the theory it was by a “follower of Constable”, crucially missing that it was, in fact, by the Suffolk master himself.
Close inspection and careful cleaning revealed that amateur restorers had painted over the authentic piece, believed to be one of Constable’s 1830 sketches for the £23 million artwork that now hangs in London’s Tate.
“The present work by Constable was heavily retouched with a dark and opaque pigment which probably dated to the late 19th or early 20th century in a misguided attempt to ‘finish’ the painting, thus depriving it of its lively, sketchy quality,” former Tate curator Anne Lyles wrote for the painting’s Sotheby’s note.
“Thankfully the retouchings on the present painting were readily soluble in the course of its recent cleaning and Constable’s original and brilliant conception has been once again revealed.”
Christie’s sold the artwork for 83-year-old Lady Hambleden. If it sells for its expected £2 million at Sotheby’s, art dealing experts believe Hambleden will have a case to sue Christie’s for lack of diligence when valuing.
“We are aware that Sotheby’s are offering this work as by Constable,” Christies said in a statement. “We took the view at the time of our sale in 2013 that it was by a “follower of”. We understand that there is no clear consensus of expertise on the new attribution.”