Sotheby’s to Offer La Belle Ferronnière Famous Painting Sotheby’s to Offer La Belle Ferronnière Famous Painting Sparked Debate That Has Endured for Nearly a Century Follower of
Leonardo da Vinci, probably before 1750
In 1929, Andrée Hahn’s suit against Duveen came to trial in New York State Supreme Court. While the Hahns aimed to affirm their attribution to Leonardo, Duveen argued that not only was the Hahn’s picture not by the Renaissance master, but it was in fact a later copy. Duveen, who had rallied a series of highly-respected experts to corroborate his opinion, expected a handy victory; however, as the trial began, it became clear that the jury was not in his favor. The American jury had little patience for European experts who offered their superior “eyes” as proof of the painting’s attribution and could provide little concrete evidence. At the trial’s conclusion, the jury was unable to reach a decision, voting nine to three in favor of the Hahns. Sir Joseph Duveen settled out of court before a retrial began, paying Andrée Hahn $60,000. The settlement did little to change the market’s opinion of the authenticity of the Hahn’s picture, however. Duveen continued to dominate the international art market, and the picture was locked away in a bank vault. In 1946, Harry Hahn published his own account of the trial, The Rape of La Belle, in which he lambasts Duveen’s ‘lust for power’ and vengeful attack on the picture. While several private sale attempts were made throughout the second half of the twentieth century, none were successful and the work disappeared from public view.
The debate over the picture’s authorship has, however, persisted to present day. In 1993, La Belle Ferronnière was examined by a leading Leonardo expert, who concluded that while the painting was not by Leonardo, it did in fact have age, and suggested that it dated to the first half of the 17th Century. Recent scientific analysis of the pigments used confirms that conjecture and suggests the work was painted by a French artist, or someone using French materials, before 1750. Such findings are enticing, for they suggest that after over eighty years, La Belle Ferronnière may finally emerge not only from the shadow of Leonardo da Vinci, but from close to a century of controversy and critical neglect.
As part of the 2010 Old Masters Week in New York, Sotheby’s will host a lecture by John Brewer, author of The American Leonardo, A Take of Obsession, Art and Money on Monday, 25 January at 6:30pm. The lecture will be followed by a Book Signing and Reception at 7:30pm. To attend, please call the Press Office on 212 606 7176. Sotheby’s January 2010 Old Masters Week
27 January, 10am Old Master Drawings
28 January, 10am Important Old Master Paintings
28 January, 2pm Old Master Paintings and Sculpture
29 January, 10am Important European Terracotta and Bronze Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections
29 January, 2pm Old Master and 19th Century European Art