Before we start, let’s just set the scene with something often overlooked by those researching the Duke’s theft. It’s the suspicion that the original picture purchased in 1961 was not actually painted by Goya at all! This will become relevant as we progress.
To support this point of view, an article is reproduced, below, taken from the Spokesman-Review, an American newspaper, dated June 3rd 1965. It raises concerns about the Duke’s authenticity.
To quote: LONDON (AP) – The portrait of the Duke of Wellington – stolen from the National Gallery nearly four years ago and recently just as mysteriously returned – may not be by Goya after all.
Now that the painting is safely back home, British art experts are raising doubts about its authenticity. One investigation indicates that decorations worn by the duke in the painting may not have been awarded until as late as 1816 – four years after the year the National Gallery contends the portrait was painted by the famous Spanish artist.
Sir Gerald Kelly, former president of the Royal Academy, has long contended the picture is a fake. “If that’s a Goya, I’m a virgin.” He told a newsman.
Now he is acquiring new allies to his views. Among them is Gerald Reitlinger, an art historian, who said the brushwork seemed too garish for Goya and suggested “some mediocre follower of Sir Thomas Lawrence.” Lawrence was a British painter who died in 1839.
Sir Gerald said in an interview: “I know the picture extremely well. I used to see it officially twice a year when I was president of the academy, and I never thought it was by Goya. That’s all there is to it. It’s only an opinion.”
“I’ve seen most of the Goyas in the world because, since 1909, when I went to live in Spain, I made it my business to see every Goya I could.” End quote.
To be clear, the article assumes the returned picture to be the original one purchased, stolen and returned. Those identified in the article then go on to say that the picture was a fake in the first place. Not that the picture was a fake because it had been copied whilst missing.
It is unknown if these opinions were ever voiced in the British press.
So perhaps a certain Mr Charles Wrightson, an American, who originally bought the picture from the Duke of Leeds at auction in 1961, did well to ‘off load’ it to the National Gallery to get his money back. All £140,000 of it (almost £3,000,000 today), and partly at the expense of the British tax payer too!