World-wide hunt for lost Veronese painting travels to Scotland’s Peterhead

Australian experts and Scottish authorities have launched an international hunt for a long-lost Renaissance masterpiece, which could be worth up to £13 million. The oil painting was last recorded in an Aberdeenshire town more than 100 years ago, but at the time nobody was truly aware of its importance.

Italian artist Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) painted ‘The Pool of Bethesda’ for the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. It measured a whopping 12ft (3.6m) by 6ft (1.8m), yet despite its size the artwork has managed to evade investigators.

Records reveal the painting was bought at a London auction by Catherine The Great of Russia (1729-1796), who gave it to her consul-general as a “special mark of her esteem”.  The painting then travelled to the consul’s estate in northeast Scotland, after which it was sold in 1860 to Aberdeen-based painter James Giles (1801-1870). Its next owner, Robert Black, brought it to Australia where it was widely exhibited. But this was where the trail went cold, until recently.

In January, the University of Melbourne began appealing for information on the missing painting after a 19th-century letter linked it to the National Gallery of Victoria. Professor Jaynie Anderson from the University of Melbourne, who is currently leading the search team, explained that there is “a real problem of accountability” surrounding the location of the painting, adding “there must be a record of it. It’s a bit of an odd one.

Then stepped forward Fiona Riddell, former curatorial assistant at the Arbuthnot Museum. Riddell had discovered that the painting was shipped from Melbourne to Peterhead in 1882 by Captain James Volum. The wealthy philanthropist gifted the painting to the town in the early 1900s, but from here the painting disappears again.

People have been searching for it all over Europe but obviously never thinking it was just in a little fishing town,” said Riddell. “The worst scenario is that it’s been destroyed. It weighed just under a tonne and it took seven men to take it up the Arbuthnot Museum stairs. You couldn’t just put it under your oxter (armpit) and off you go. Somebody must know something about it.”

Aberdeenshire Council have since launched their own investigation into the mysterious painting’s whereabouts. The council are asking “anyone with information or memories of this piece to get in touch. Perhaps family members recall seeing it hanging in the Arbuthnot over the years, or are aware of why it came to be gifted to The Blue Toon (Peterhead).”

Today, the appearance of the massive painting is only known through an engraving that was made in Venice. “Where is it?” questioned Anderson. “I think it’s just waiting to be discovered.”

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