Van Dyck's The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633) on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Credit: Walker Art Gallery

Art UK uncovers van Dyck masterpiece in Liverpool

Simon Stephens, 24.10.2019
Q&A with Marion Richards, the Art Detective Officer at Art UK
Art UK recently announced that a portrait in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery originally thought to be from the Studio of Anthony van Dyck is actually by the Flemish master himself.

The discovery was made by Art Detective, the Art UK initiative that links public art collections with a network of specialist knowledge across the world. The aim is to help museums and galleries fill in missing information about their artworks and solve long-standing mysteries.

Art UK is a cultural education charity that has digitised more than 230,000 artworks in UK public collections and made them available online. Its platform is shared by over 3,200 British institutions and more than two million people use its website each year.

Museums Journal talks to Marion Richards, the Art Detective Officer at Art UK

How does Art Detective work?

The Art Detective network enhances knowledge of the UK's public art collection. Specialists and members of the public send us updates and amendments to pass on to collections who participate on Art UK. Our discussion forum contributes exciting new research on artists, sitters and subjects.

How did the discovery of the van Dyck work come about?

When Fergus Hall, a leading dealer in old master paintings, wrote to us that he thought the Walker Art Gallery's "studio of Van Dyck" portrait was an autograph work it seemed an obvious candidate for our discussion forum. Through that network we obtained other informed opinions and invited Susan J Barnes, an expert on Van Dyck and lead author of the catalogue raisonné, to visit the painting.

What has been the reaction to the discovery?

Very positive and exciting. It has received significant press coverage, such as articles in the Guardian, Apollo and Smithsonian Magazine, as well as a feature in Ed Vaizey's weekly newsletter. This discovery demonstrates that Art Detective is a respected and effective forum for sharing and improving knowledge about public art.

How do you seen Art Detective developing in the future?

I see Art Detective becoming an indispensable network of expertise for public collections (especially small and medium sized ones) which have limited resources for research. As well as updating core information (artist/sitter/date etc) we are recording more extensive finds such as artists’ biographies generated from our public discussions.

The Art UK website is continually expanding and improving, and we are planning to add this kind of information to the site. This will include biographies of painters and sculptors, but also ultimately information on provenance, exhibitions, publications and researcher profiles.