According to The Art Newspaper, art historian Malcolm Rogers provided numerous letters authenticating portraits to Anthony van Dyck to art dealer James Stunt, who faced legal troubles earlier this year when it was claimed that he was involved in a multi-million-pound money laundering scheme.
Malcolm Rogers is a retired curator who served as the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 1994 to 2015, making him the longest serving director in the museum’s history. Prior to this, he was Deputy Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London where his expertise in sixteenth to eighteenth century portraiture saw him publish on artists such as Anthony van Dyck and William Dobson. But now The Art Newspaper has bought his professionalism into question with their recent investigation into Rogers’ work for James Stunt.
It has become clear that Stunt bought numerous works considered copies or works by the circle or studio of Van Dyck in recent years, which Rogers provided updated letters of authentication for. Stunt then lent the works to Dumfries House, an estate owned by King Charles’s charitable foundation. Susan Barnes, an authority on Van Dyck who was co-author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, wrote of three of the Van Dyck’s under question that they were “absolute copies”, and in a 2020 email she said, “when and why they were made, I can’t imagine”. Whilst Stunt paid only £357,450 for the seven works by Van Dyck under question, the insurance value of the group at Dumfries House was £70m more than this amount, indicating the monetary implications of these upgraded attributions.
For his part, Rogers defended his position to The Art Newspaper, saying that “in common with the practice of most scholars of my generation, I do not ‘authenticate’ works of art, but I am often asked to give opinions on works that fall within my area of scholarship. As opinions they are naturally open to challenge by other scholars. I stand by the opinions that I have given, but would emphasise that they can in no way be considered ‘authentication’… nevertheless, my letters – as you will know if you have read them – are closely argued and evidence-based.”
Ali Dizaei, a former commander at the Metropolitan Police who previously oversaw Stunt’s financial and security teams, told The Art Newspaper that after Stunt stopped paying Dizaei’s team he began investigating the dealer. Dizaei said, “we did our research and noticed that James Stunt appeared to have an ability for discovering paintings which were not well-known. We then found out that these paintings were passed by a man called Malcolm Rogers […] During our investigation it seemed to us that they were bought for a relatively low amount and then Mr Rogers would write a letter that said the art was authentic. And then, as a result, those same paintings would be valued for millions of pounds and appear on the register as very valuable.”
Whilst it is not clear at this stage what exactly has transpired between Stunt and Rogers, the sheer number of paintings the dealer has managed to acquire which are in fact – according to Rogers – genuine works by Van Dyck is certainly surprising and suggests that there may be some suspicious activities going on.