Art lovers were treated to a special viewing of a Rubens at the Irma Stern Museum in Rosebank last week, prior to it going to auction.
Luke Crossley of Stephan Welz & Co auction house painted a picture of how Portrait of a Gentleman came about and hinted at why it was up for auction.
The owners did not wish to be named and did not say why they wanted to sell the artwork.
“Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 to 1640) was the most influential Flemish Baroque artist and depicted this gentleman wearing a crisp white ruff and black coat,” said Mr Crossley as about 30 guests sipped wine and snacked on cheese.
The oldest auction record for this oil on oak panel work is in 1740 when it was sold as a Portrait of a Man.
The painting has a noticeable line down the middle which Mr Crossley said could have happened during moving between owners. The back has an intricate lattice reinforcement.
On Friday June 29 it went on auction by Stephan Welz in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Anton Welz said the seller and the buyer have asked that we do not disclose the price.
Early this week the Constantia auction house would not divulge the selling price as they had to get permission from the owners.
Mr Crossley has been researching this painting since September and said the name of the sitter is unknown but would have come from a wealthy family who could afford to have his portrait painted by Rubens.
He said it was created sometime between 1598 – the date of Rubens’ appointment to the Guild of Painters of Antwerp – and 1609 – the artist’s return to Antwerp from Italy following the death of his mother.
Between 1817 and 1917, as the work changed hands on auction, the identity of the artist was subject to debate as to whether it was a work by Rubens, or possibly by Frans Pourbus.
John Autard of Green Point is also debating the uncanny resemblance of this Rubens to a painting of a family member, Balthazard Autard which is held by his family in France and was painted in 1602, artist unknown.
The first time Mr Autard knew of the Rubens was when he received an invitation to the viewing.
“I was blown away by the resemblance and took a cellphone picture of my painting, which I had printed on canvas, and compared it to the Rubens.
“Apart from the length of the beard and the eyelashes they are uncannily similar,” said Mr Autard.
Mr Crossley did not agree. Mr Welz said there is a similarity between the two sitters, and he certainly lived at the same time so it is not impossible that he may have been the subject.