The Met gets a Velazquez for Christmas


The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired a portrait of King Philip IV in 1913, as a bequest from Benjamin Altman. The portrait of the 18-year-old monarch was said to have been done by Diego Velazquez.

Unfortunately, Philip’s reign at the Met was cut short in 1973, when the Museum reconsidered his Majesty and declared the work to have been done by an assistant or follower of Velazquez.

In 2009, the Museum decided to clean Philip up for good. The New York Times reports that Keith Christiansen, the Met’s chairman of European paintings, was inspired by work done at the Frick Collection on a later portrait of the King – also by Velazquez. Christiansen confessed, “if Michael [Gallagher, chief conservator for the Met,] hadn’t proceeded with the restoration, I was going to put it in storage.”

As a result of the restoration process, which has taken over a year to complete, the painting has been declared a true Velazquez. The visual results of the restoration can be seen at The Telegraph.

The BBC reports that this painting “was among 300 disputed works all downgraded by the Met 37 years ago, despite the museum owning the artist’s signed receipt of payment from the king.” What more is required to prove authenticity? Should the market rely on art experts, historians, authentication committees, or scientific techniques? When should cleaning and restoration efforts be undertaken to help prove authenticity? Most importantly, when should lawyers become involved?

The gift goes back up on display today at the Met.

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