Fr. Jamie McLeod wanted to brighten up a retreat home run by his church in Derbyshire, England; so twelve years ago, when he found an oil portrait at a local antique shop, he bought it and hung it on the center’s wall.
Some years passed. Only once did the painting leave its spot, when it crashed to the ground—destroying a CD player on the way, but none the worse for wear.
A few years ago, though, Father McLeod decided to sell the painting and use the money to purchase new bells for his church. How much, he wondered, was it worth?
So began a little sleuthing: In 2012 Father McLeod took the painting to a recording of Antiques Roadshow at Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire; but he didn’t get a clear answer. He tried again, this time taking it to a recording of the same show at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. This time the presenter, Fiona Bruce, had some recent experience working with an art historian on another television program which featured works by the Dutch master Anthony van Dyck. She thought that Father McLeod’s painting may, in fact, have been an original; so she suggested that he have it restored by an expert.
Simon Gillespie, an expert restorer who worked on the project, used solvent to remove layers of overpainting. He described the lengthy restoration process as “the art equivalent of an [archeological] excavation.” Once the over-painting was removed, what remained was a sketch with unfinished details—but a noted expert on the work of van Dyck confirmed that it was, in fact, an original. The painting is thought to be a preparatory sketch for Van Dyck’s 1634 work Magistrates of Belgium, which was destroyed by the French during a 1695 attack on Brussels. The image in Father McLeod’s painting is identical to the magistrate on the far right in a grissaile (monochromatic) sketch which hangs today in Paris’s Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. Only three other sketches of magistratres’ heads from the work are known to exist.
Philip Mould, the expert consultant, believes the sketch to be worth between £300,000 and £400,000 (roughly $492,000 to $696,000 in U.S. dollars). Father McLeod plans to sell the work and to use the money to buy church bells, in commemoration of the centenary of the First World War.
Chances are, he’ll have a little money left over; but as yet, there’s been no announcement regarding how he will use the remaining profit.