Entertainment & Arts

John Constable 'fake' sold for £35,000 is £2m original

Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce
Image caption The revelation was made on Fake or Fortune? presented by Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce

An art dealer and TV presenter has spoken of his "utter and raw delight" on discovering a painting once deemed a fake was, in fact, worth £2m.

Philip Mould was always convinced the painting was an original by British artist John Constable, but unable to produce proof, he sold it for £35,000.

Now, 17 years later, he has been vindicated.

Research by the BBC's Fake or Fortune? programme found it is an early version of Constable's famous Hay Wain.

The presenter - more used to telling other people they had missed out on fortunes - had his own dealings put under the spotlight in Sunday's episode of the art detective show.

Mr Mould told Radio 5 live he believed he had got hold of an original, when he paid £10,000 for the picture as a young dealer.


"I tried to prove it - but couldn't," he said of the depiction of Willy Lott's Cottage on the River Stour.

So he sold it on, only to buy it back a few years later and try again to prove its authenticity.

But still unable to, he sold it to British businessman Henry Reid in 2000.

He paid £35,000, having "believed [Mould's] conviction" he would one day be able to prove its true worth.

"I promised the person I sold it to that one day I would return and try and prove it and wonderfully, we were able to do it," Mr Mould said.

"We have proved that a painting that I bought for a few thousand pounds originally, hoping it was a work by one of the greatest landscape painters who ever lived, is now finally proved to be so. I am so thrilled."

Earlier this year, 1821 painting The Hay Wain was voted one of the nation's favourite art works.

Image copyright PA
Image caption John Constable's 1821 painting The Hay Wain

The trail led Fake or Fortune? co-presenter Fiona Bruce to experts in Los Angeles.

Mr Mould said the programme team examined the layers of paint and the work's provenance.

"Art history has moved on so magnificently - and technology - in the last 17 years. We can do things and find things out that were not possible when I was a youngster," he said.

"We were able to trace it back through various owners... right back pretty well to the brush of Constable himself. We found it in a sale sold by his son after his death which was a real slam dunker."

Presented with all the evidence, two specialists finally gave it "the thumbs up".

Despite missing out on a multimillion-pound windfall, the dealer is not bitter.

"I'm enormously happy for him," he conceded.

"It's also wonderful for Constable himself. I had visions of him saying why is my picture being deemed a fake?"

Watch Series 6 of Fake or Fortune? on the BBC iPlayer.

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