‘Two Hacks, the property of Henry Ulrick Reay Esq of Burn Hall Co. Durham and their blue-liveried groom in a landscape’ (1789) depicts a groom exercising a pair of horses. It sold for US$215,000 (£177,000) at Christie’s New York in June 2016 with the attribution “After George Stubbs”. The vendor, the Huntington Library in California, had once considered the painting to be a genuine work by Stubbs. Later, in what art historian and BBC Fake or Fortune? team member, Bendor Grosvenor, has called “one of the biggest deaccessioning blunders of modern times” the library decided it was a later copy of an authorised painting held in the Ambrose Clark collection in America and offered it for sale.
Bought by Archie Parker of London’s Parker Gallery, ‘Two Hacks’ underwent cleaning and was subject to extensive research. This revealed the presence of ‘pentimenti’, or the underlying traces of an earlier painting in the left hind leg of one of the horses, which is considered evidence of Stubbs’ hand in creating the work. As a result of the research, Parker formed the view that the painting was in fact the primary version of ‘Two Hacks’, which was painted a year earlier than the Ambrose Clark version. The Huntington painting is now estimated to be worth approximately £750,000, more than quadruple its 2016 sale price at Christie’s. “This discovery shows that even the major auction houses can make mistakes” Parker said.
‘Two Hacks’ will be offered by the Parker Gallery at the British Antique Dealers’ Association fair in London from tomorrow (15 March).