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National Gallery's "fake Delacroix” could be by Sickert

Portrait of a Man

A picture in London’s National Gallery, which was once attributed to Delacroix, could be a “fake” painted by Sickert. Originally dated to 1830-50, it might have been created by Sickert in an audacious move to fool the curators.

Portrait of a Man is to go on show in “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries”, 30 June-12 September. Walter Sickert (1860-1942) donated the portrait to the Tate in November 1922 and in 1956 it was transferred to the National Gallery. In 1922 the painting was attributed to Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) and the sitter was recorded as the French social reformer Victor Considérant (1808-93). However, the sketchy portrait bears little resemblance to Considérant, and although in Delacroix’s style, it was later downgraded as not by the master.

“Close Examination” curator Betsy Wieseman says although it might have been made by a French follower of Delacroix, “we might also consider whether the picture could have been done by Sickert himself, emulating the style of Delacroix”. If so, he could have painted it as “an exercise, to emulate the great French artist, or he might have done it to deceive”.

Sickert was notoriously eccentric, particularly by the 1920s, and his behaviour was unpredictable. However, Sickert specialist Wendy Baron doubts he would have painted a purported Delacroix, and assuming that he bought it as by the master, she blames “dodgy connoisseurship”. She also points out that Sickert mentions the “Delacroix” in a 1906 letter, and he seems to have acquired it in Paris.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as: "fake Delacroix” could be by Sickert