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Blessing in disguise
Old painting transpires to be a masterpiece
It's every antiques lover's dream - finding out that the painting you bought for £400 is an undiscovered masterpiece.
That's exactly what happened to Father Jamie MacLeod, who runs the Community of the King of Love, a small Christian retreat in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire. When the BBC's Antiques Roadshow visited Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, he took the painting to be valued. Presenter Fiona Bruce had a hunch that it might be genuine and warranted further investigation.
"The highly acclaimed specialists were like two little boys, jumping up and down, and 99.9% certain it was a Van Dyke."
Father Jamie MacLeod, Community of the King of Love
Father MacLeod recounts, "After the show I was asked to take the picture to Philip Mould and Dr Bendor Grosvenor, who is are anoraks on Van Dyke's work, for further examination. I took the painting down to London on the train, wrapped in a pillowcase. The highly acclaimed specialists were like two little boys, jumping up and down, and 99.9% certain it was a Van Dyke."
The art connoisseurs recognised the work by its authentic brush strokes. In the seventeenth century it was Van Dyke who introduced a sketch style elegance that was to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next 150 years.
The portrait shows a Brussels magistrate and is believed to be part of a larger picture consisting of seven magistrates which dates back to 1634. When the French bombarded Brussels in 1695 the main picture was destroyed, but the smaller single portrait survived and somehow found its way to an antiques shop in Cheshire.
At the moment the now restored painting is safely kept in auctioneers Christie's vault and will be sold later this spring. The portrait is estimated at a staggering £650,000, making it the most valuable painting identified in the Antiques Roadshow's 36-year history.
Reflecting on auctioning the portrait Father MacLeod says, "I feel ambiguous about selling the painting. It's a portrait that I've had in my own home for years and I've always liked it. But it hasn't been here for two and a half years now. I've missed it, but I wouldn't be able to afford the insurance and can't assure its safety.
"On the other hand when the news was made public on 29 December we had over 8,000 visits to our website. A lot of people that didn't know that we existed now want to have their conference or retreat here. Without the Van Dyke we would never have had worldwide publicity."
But the windfall hasn't just prompted positive reactions, says Father MacLeod: "Some have come out with jealous and nasty comments. But these people haven't seen what we have done here for forty years. We've been there to help when people have knocked on the door at three or four o'clock in the morning. People that had become homeless or something had gone completely and turned their lives upside down."
The charity has banked with Triodos Bank since 1994. Neil Hewitt, social and cultural team manager says, "They're absolutely passionate about their work, which is one of the reasons we've been so keen to support them through some challenging times over the years. For the Community to be blessed with this change of fortune is absolutely wonderful, and we're delighted they can now expand on their charitable work."
Selling the painting might leave an empty space on the wall but will help to realise one of Father MacLeod's long standing aspirations. With the money raised by the auction he will have new bells recast and will also at looking for people to come forward to restore the old bell tower of the chapel to commemorate the centenary of the First World War when the bells were removed.
The community of the Kingdom of Love is looking to install twelve full circle change ringing bells. "We want to teach people about full circle change ringing and bring our area to life with the sounds of the bells", says Father MacLeod.
Photo credit: BBC Antiques Roadshow