Lebanon News

Experts scoff at ISF’s surreal estimate of Dali artwork

Salvador Dali - Portrait of Mrs. Reeves 1954 (Wikimedia)

BEIRUT: A painting recovered by the Internal Security Forces thought to be an original work of Spanish painter Salvador Dali may be less valuable than originally reported. The painting, titled “Portrait of Mrs. James Reeves,” was confiscated by the ISF on Oct. 13 following investigations in Beirut’s Cola neighborhood and Dohat Aramoun in the Metn. An official ISF statement released Wednesday stated that the piece was likely stolen from a “neighboring country.”

While the ISF has claimed the work is likely an original worth “millions of dollars,” art experts disagree.

“This is one of the portraits Dali was commissioned to do of high society ladies when he was in the United States,” Lawrence Saphire, art historian and author told The Daily Star. “These are not worth millions. They usually sell for a few hundred thousand dollars because they’re not considered serious paintings. We can’t really compare this to a portrait of Laurence Olivier, for example.”

In 1955, the already-renowned Dali was commissioned to paint a portrait of English actor Olivier for a film promotion. The portrait exhibits Dali’s signature surrealist motifs.

Saphire noted that the portrait of Mrs. Reeves which does not exhibit Dali’s signature style would not have a similar value.

Separately, Nicolas Descharnes, an internationally recognized Dali expert, corroborated Saphire’s view.

“Dali lived in the United States for a moment where he was commissioned to do such paintings. This portrait is probably valued around 200,000 to 300,000 euros ($235,690-$353,535),” he said.

Descharnes’ father Robert worked closely with Dali as his secretary. Following the artist’s death in 1989, Robert was the administrator of Dali’s copyright. Nicolas followed his father into the trade.

“The portrait went through several auctions,” he said. “First at Sotheby’s New York in 1986, then twice at Christie’s London. The first took place in June 1989 and the last auction took place on Dec. 10, 1997.”

Descharnes noted that the value of the painting had never reached close to $1 million during this period of time.

Neither Descharnes nor Saphire could comment on whether the painting was genuine, nor its history in the Middle East, but Alex Rosenberg, Chair Emeritus of the Salvador Dali Research Center in New York, warned that many fakes had surfaced on the market.

Four individuals were arrested for allegedly trying to sell the painting. They have been identified as M.A., born in 1982, M.Y., born in 1991, Y.B., born in 1975, and M.H., born in 1983.

The first two have been identified as a Lebanese and Syrian national respectively. The nationalities of the final two remain unknown.

Y.B. is reported to have an additional warrant out on his arrest.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2017, on page 2.

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