Rubens Painting that Fooled the Met Sets to Sell for £3m

Five years ago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) sold a portrait of Peter Paul Rubens’ daughter after deciding it was done by a follower of Rubens, with an estimate of merely US$20,000 - 30,000 (£15,098 - 22,648). Yet, the painting is now accepted as an original work by the famed Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640) and will be up for auction with an estimate of £3m - 5m (US$3.97m - 6.62m) at Christie's Old Masters Evening Sale.

The painting depicts the old master’s daughter, Clara Serena, who tragically died at the age of 12 in 1623. When Rubens was executing the painting, his beloved daughter was already in her deathbed. As the painting went nearer to its completion, little Clara Serena’s life came closer to its end. 

Rubens’ portrait of his wife|The British Museum

The style of the portrait of Clara Serena is similar to Rubens’ portrait of his wife, Isabella. Unfortunately, three years after Clara Serena’s death, Isabella also died in the plague.

Rubens’ self portrait

Walter Liedtke (1945-2015) is art historian of Dutch and Flemish Paintings at the Met

In the early 1940s, Julius Held, a historian and an expert on Dutch painters Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Rembrandt, announced that the portrait of Clara Serena was not an original Rubens’ work. The painting was later acquired by the Met but again was determined by Walter Liedtke to be only an imitation of Rubens’ work created in the 17th century.

Part of the painting

Therefore, in 2013, the Met had decided to sell the painting through Sotheby’s with an estimate of US$20,000. Little did they know that the work would sell for 30 times its estimate at US$626,500. The anonymous buyer was convinced that the painting was likely an original by Rubens.

Rubens’ former home in Antwerp

The buyer had the portrait restored, cleaning the layer of dirt and green overpainting. Then a team of experts examined the work and concluded that it was an authentic work of Rubens. Since then, the masterpiece had been on show at museums like the Scottish National Gallery and Rubenshuis in Antwerp, the former home and studio of Peter Paul Rubens. In the upcoming Christie’s sale in London, the painting will be sold for an estimate of £3m - 5m.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

The Met had provided a response regarding this incident earlier on and expressed that the authenticity of the painting has always been in question. The decision of selling the Rubens painting in 2013 was not a mistake.


Old Masters Evening Sale Top 3 lots

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Portrait of Clara Serena, the artist's daughter

Lot no.: 7
Size: 36.2 x 26.4cm=

  • (Presumably) In the estate of Jan Brant (1559-1639), the artist’s father-in-law and the sitter’s grandfather, listed ‘In de groote camer aan den hoff’, ‘Twee stucxkens schilderije respective, op panneel, olieverve, in lijste, d'een van Jan Brant, des afflijvigens soontken was, ende d'ander van Clara Serena Rubens, dochterken was des voors. Hr. Rubbens’.
  • (Probably) Guillaume-Jean Constantin (1755-1816), Curator of the painting collection of Empress Josephine at Château de Malmaison; his sale (†), Rue Saint-Lazare no. 52, Paris, 18 November 1816 (=1st day), lot 285, as ‘School of Rubens’, ‘Un portrait de jeune fille bien touché et d'une grande vérité. H. 13 p., l. 10. B. [sur bois]’, sold for 22 francs to,
  • Louis-Antoine (Athanase) Lavallée (1768-1818), Secretary General of the ‘Musée Napoléon’ (Musée du Louvre) and its temporary director.
  • (Possibly) M. Camille Groult (1837-1908), Paris.
  • Sir Robert Henry Edward Abdy, 5th Bt. (1896-1976), Paris.
  • Mrs. Peter Cooper Hewitt (1842-1934), New York; her sale (†), American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, New York, 6 April 1935, lot 613.
  • Frederick R. Bay, New York, by 1936, until at least 1939.
  • Charles Ulrick Bay (1888-1955), New York, by 1942, and by inheritance to his widow,
  • Josephine Bay Paul, New York, 1955, by whom gifted as ‘Rubens’ to,
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 60.169), in 1960, catalogued as ‘a copy after Rubens, probably 17th century’, and deaccessioned in 2013; Sotheby’s, New York, 31 January 2013 (=1st day), lot 107, as ‘Follower of Peter Paul Rubens’ ($626,500), when acquired by the present owner.

Estimate: £3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), Portrait of Carlo Alberto Rati Opizzoni in armour, three-quarter-length, wearing the Order of the Knights of Malta, the city of Bologna beyond

Lot no.: 36
Size: 102 x 86.2cm

  • Conte Luigi Amedeo Rati Opizzoni (1877-1946), Turin, to whom gifted by the city of Bologna (according to family tradition), before 1911, and thence by direct family descent (in New York by 1930), until sold in the following,
  • Anonymous sale [Property from a New York Estate]; Sotheby’s, New York, 27 January 2005, lot 125, when acquired by the present owner.

Estimate: £3,500,000 - 5,000,000

Rembrandt (1606-1669). Christ presented to the people (‘Ecce Homo’)

Lot no.: 22
Size: 38.7 x 44.8cm

  • Gabriel von Cronstern [II], probably acquired in the 1760s from Pierre Yver in Amsterdam.
  • By descent in the family of the Grafen Plessen-Cronstern, Schleswig-Holstein; their sale, Christie’s, London, Important Old Master Prints from a German Family of Title – Part I, 10 December 1991, lot 54.
  • Samuel Josefowitz (1921-2015), Lausanne; acquired at the above sale.
  • Then by descent to the present owners.

Estimate: £2,200,000 - 3,500,000

Auction details

Auction house: Christie's London
Sale: Old Masters Evening Sale
Lots offered: 61
Date: 2018/7/5|7pm