Texan collector loses Van Dyck case, dealer judged not fault

Claim against Agnew’s dismissed though the painting ruled not autograph



The Texan collector who sued Agnew’s for £1.5 million, claiming a painting it sold him was not the Van Dyck the leading art dealer claimed it was, but a studio work, has lost his case. Richard Drake, who bought the portrait through an art agent, will have to pay costs, which may amount to over £1 million.

The High Court judge decided that although the painting, a portrait of James Stuart, fourth Duke of Lennox, was not by Van Dyck, the dealer was not at fault. Julian Agnew testified that he believed that the picture was autograph. However the leading specialist Sir Oliver Millar, who is preparing part of the Van Dyck catalogue raisonné, believes it is a studio work.

Agnew’s had bought the painting at a Sotheby’s auction in 1996 for £35,000, with Simon Dickinson. It was then sold by Agnew’s to Steven Callan, a New Orleans-based art dealer, who was an agent for Richard Drake.

During the trial, it emerged that Mr Callan had doctored Agnew’s documents, by blanking out references to Sir Oliver Millar’s opinion on the attribution. The judge also decided that Mr Callan had lied about a conversation with Julian Agnew. He ruled that, “it was no term of the contract [between Agnew’s and the buyer] that the painting was by Van Dyck”, that the attribution was an opinion, and that Mr Callan was aware of this.

As for the attribution, the judge decided that he was “bound to accept” Sir Oliver Millar’s view because he was acknowledged to be the greater expert. The judge concluded that the portrait was a fine early studio work, and set a value of £270,000 on it, based on Julian Agnew and Simon Dickinson’s statements that each would have been prepared to go to about £300,000 for the work when it sold at Sotheby’s.

Julian Agnew, speaking to The Art Newspaper, maintains his belief in the portrait: “I believe that this picture will one day come to be acknowledged as an autograph Van Dyck, and the lost original for the painting that is now in the Louvre,” he said, noting that his opinion is supported by Malcolm Rogers of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Jacques Foucart of the Louvre.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Texan collector loses Van Dyck case'