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Artcurial Altercation

May 31, 2023
A Baroque neoclassical painting of Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in a pond, with other figures looking on. Sold by Artcurial to Patrick Matthiesen in 2022, and the subject of the spat between the two.

Narcissus by Laurent de la Hyre

A London-based art dealer has gotten into a bit of a spat with the French auction house Artcurial. Patrick Matthiesen owns the Matthiesen Gallery, just around the block from St. James’s Square in London, specializing primarily in Old Master paintings. Recently, Matthiesen purchased the painting Narcissus, which specialists have recently reattributed to Laurent de la Hyre, a French Baroque painter and a leader of the seventeenth-century neo-classical French style now known as Atticism. Matthiesen purchased the painting through Artcurial on November 9, 2022, for €700K (or $705.6K) despite the auction house having very little provenance information on the painting. The only information about its previous owners was that it sold at Christie’s in 1929. Though he already bought the work, Matthiesen has refused to export it to Britain without first taking every precaution under anti-money laundering legislation. The gallery began independently investigating the work’s provenance because, according to Matthiesen, Artcurial refused to provide that information. “We have to know who the seller is, and, if they are an agent, to find the ultimate beneficiary. Similar rules apply in America and there is no way we could sell the painting in the US with no information on its whereabouts for almost a century.”

Matthiesen also claims Artcurial gave him different answers to the same question. When he asked who the painting’s most recent seller had been, auction house staff told him at one time that it came from a Belgian family and then another time that it came from a British company. He also noticed an inscription on the frame reading “scuola francesa”, or French School in Italian, indicating that the painting may have been in Italy at one point. After requesting payment twice, Artcurial canceled the sale at the seller’s request. Matthiesen has reported the incident to the relevant agencies in both France and Britain. Artcurial states that it provided as much information as possible, and it has the right to protect the anonymity of its clients. It has since described Matthiesen’s claims as “erroneous, if not defamatory”. Matthiesen claims that this is not the first time that his gallery has had to perform its own research on paintings to make up for French auction houses’ lack of transparency.