Martin Gayford lets Bloombeg readers in on the story of a restored Titian on view in London’s National Gallery but soon to be seen at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. In the process, he explains how paintings fall out of the light:
The world is full of lost pictures, including plenty by famous artists. Some were looted in war or purloined by criminals. Lots more simply vanish into the shadows — as this Titian was in the process of doing.
It’s surprisingly easy for a painting to blip off the radar, as I discovered when I served as one of the curators of the “Constable Portraits” exhibition this year at the National Portrait Gallery. In advance, I wouldn’t have guessed how much time and energy we spent simply trying to locate pictures. In some cases, it proved impossible to trace them, even though they were illustrated and described in standard books, had passed through top salerooms, and been included in major exhibitions.
Of course, these weren’t necessarily “lost” in that their owners may well know exactly what they have on the wall. It’s just that no one in the world of museums or academic study is in on the secret. Once the scholars have lost track, it’s not hard for a work to vanish completely.
Someone dies, and from prized possession it slips to “My uncle thought this dirty old thing was a Titian.” Next stop is a junk shop or a country auction, just the places where, from time to time, a masterpiece turns up.