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When is a Titian a repe-Titian?

Part 4: The Courtauld "Titian"

Lord Lee of Fareham (1868-1947) who gave his pictures to the Courtauld Collection was a dedicated collector of Old Master pictures, although not in the same league as Andrew Mellon. However, it seems that he too wished to have a "Titian" and on the 20 July 1923 he purchased from a dealer in London, called Nico Jungman, the Toilet of Venus for £300. The handwritten receipt which still exists in the Courtauld archives says simply "Received from Lord Lee of Fareham "three hundred pounds" £300 - for The Venus at Toilet by the Venetian painter "Titian" with thanks". Jungman claimed that the picture came from the Orleans Collection, one of the great French ancien regime Collections that was sold after the French Revolution in London in 1798, that it had been in the collection of the Earl of Darnley, and had then been owned by Alfred de Rothschild who gave it to the Earl of Caernavon.

Two things need to be pointed out. In the 1920s authenticated works by Titian sold for between £2,500 and in exceptional circumstances in excess of £100,000. Lord Lee would have been aware of this and so must have been conscious that £300 was unlikely to purchase a work by the Master himself. Second, the claim that the picture came from the Orleans Collection and from the Earl of Darnley has been shown to be untrue, although perhaps Jungman was not aware of that. It seems that the picture was originally in the Gonzaga Collection in Italy and was bought by the Duke of Portland in the early 18th century. In 1722 it was purchased for £101 by Paul Methuen of Corsham Court in Wiltshire (the house still has a magnificent Old Master collection). The Second Baron Methuen sold it in 1875 to Alfred de Rothschild and the cunning Baron Methuen annotated his catalogue as follows "sold by Second Lord Methuen to Sir A Rothschild three thousand five hundred, worth £500". In another copy of his catalogue he wrote "sold to A Rothschild 1875 £3,500!!!" Alfred de Rothschild gave the picture to the Countess of Caernavon (she was his illegitimate daughter) and she sold the picture on the 31 May 1918 at Christie’s where it was catalogued as "Veronese".

Berenson did not think that Lord Lee’s picture was by Titian. It was too insignificant for Duveen to bother with, but this did not stop the picture becoming the subject of its own little history reflecting the ethical questions and dilemmas explored in Simon Gray’s play. Lord Lee received a letter dated March 4 1928 from a Viennese Old Master "expert" called Doctor Stephan-Poglayen-Neuwall: "My Lord, I could come to London in order to form a judgement on your picture. If it turns out to be merely a work of Titian’s Studio, all you will have to pay me only will be my travelling expenses, including my stay in London. If on the other hand, I should be able to establish the authorship of Titian himself, in which case, I would publish it in a first class Scientific Periodical, I should require payment of an adequate fee for my testimonial and publication."

"It must taken into consideration that the picture now looked upon as "School of Paolo Veronese" (which would, as a result of my publication, rise in value from a few hundred pounds to about £15,000 to £20,000) is now discredited by the brand of "Studio" painting. Another circumstance is, I think, to the advisability of a publication of your picture: a replica of it has come lately into possession of some of Viennese art dealers and has been testified to as a "Titian" by an Italian expert. In case I come to the conclusion that your picture was the original and advocated it as such, I should have to oppose this testimonial which is apt to prove damaging to your picture. Believe me, My Lord, very obediently yours......".

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