Sunday, January 29, 2023

Word of the "Orphaned Art"

Last Thursday, an oil sketch by 17th-century Dutch painter Anthony van Dyck for his c. 1620 painting of St. Jerome was auctioned at Sotheby's in New York. 

A painting had been purchased in 2002 at an auction in Kinderhook by the late Albert Roberts. Roberts paid $600 for the painting, which showed evidence of being poorly stored. There were bird droppings on the back. On Thursday, the painting, identified as "A Study for St. Jerome," sold for $2.5 million. 


  1. Mr. Roberts would be pleased I gather? Not that he did it for the money. More, the reward for an astute eye and a love of history and art.

  2. You're right, Cheviot Views, Al Roberts cared about the art, period. He considered his collection of oddball artworks - some of them admirable, plenty of them bad - to be lost "orphans" who magically made their way into his care.

    He'd lavish money on painting conservation or having a creator's identity verified by scholars. But then, aside from those rare occasions when funds were running dangerously low, he'd show no interest in selling following some successful research.

    When it came time to send a recognized name to auction, as threatened, he'd keep it in sight instead, and usually for months, before its eventual migration to storage.

    (His storeroom was easily accessible, so that without warning, probably because a new thought had occurred to him, he'd circulate some obscure item you were sure he'd forgotten about.)

    To my amusement, his reasons against selling particular artworks would change over time.

    In the case of the van Dyck, though, which always leaned against the wall of Mr. Roberts' art-cluttered sitting room, some of the big auction houses gave much higher estimates for this painting. That said, I'm sure he'd have shown no disappointment at the final sale. He'd simply have shrugged and returned to his unusual task.

    Rather, it was Mr. Roberts' great concern that his lost artworks should end up wherever they belonged. But if that meant that most were perfectly at home in his collection of "orphans," the van Dyck was one he really hoped the entire world might enjoy. For this painting, I'm satisfied he was always more concerned with the buyer than the price.