Antiques Roadshow bombshell: How Fiona Bruce 'hunch' unearthed £400k painting

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The Antiques Roadshow team have uncovered countless treasures stowed away in lofts, garages and hidden spaces of British homes, since the show first launched in 1979. The BBC TV hit has inspired and spurred-on many to peruse their local charity shops, car-boot sales and antique shops, in the hope of finding notable gems forgotten over time. Once such discovery was made by Fiona Bruce in 2013, when she managed to unearth an original near-400-year-old piece by famous Baroque painter Anthony van Dyck. She had been working on another programme about the Belgium-born artist, when she spotted an awfully familiar detail on an Antiques Roadshow piece. Her hunch led to an extensive months-long investigation that would unveil incredible news – only for hopes to be dashed months later.

Father Jamie MacLeod first bought the painting by Anthony van Dyck for £400 from an antiques shop in 1992 – but could never have imagined what was hidden underneath it. 

Despite bearing the artist’s name on the piece’s wooden frame, there were doubts over whether it was actually an original piece and whether more could lie beneath.

The portrait showed a Renaissance nobleman with a white ruff around his neck, sporting a well-trimmed facial hair, as he looked off into the distance. 

When Antiques Roadshow host Fiona Bruce spotted the piece, she recognised an unusual quirk of the painting after having studied Van Dyck for weeks. 

She said: “When I saw this something about the eyes and the way you can see the bone under the nose here it just looked similar to the kind of paintings I’d been looking at, so I thought, ‘Who knows, it could be?’”

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BBC host Fiona Bruce unearthed a 17th Century painting on ‘Antiques Roadshow’ thanks to a hunch (Image: BBC / GETTY)

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Antiques Roadshow concluded a long lost sketch from ‘The Magistrates of Brussel’ was beneath the art (Image: BBC)

BBC art expert Phillip Mould added: “It’s as off-piste as you get but if this is to be by Van Dyck there’s only one way of finding out.

“The question is, are you prepared to commission a process of cleaning and restoration, by which paint is radically removed but later could reveal what I hope could be an original work beneath.” 

The Derbyshire priest beamed as he agreed to a lengthy three-month restoration and verification process that unveiled “17th Century brushstrokes beneath” the top layer of the painting. 

Having undergone a painstaking process of removing layers of paint using a cotton bud and solution, the artwork was described to have undergone “quite the transformation”.

Standing beside Father MacLeod, the art analyst explained the tragic history of one of Van Dyck’s most famous yet long lost group portraits ‘The Magistrates of Brussels’ from 1634.

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Fiona Bruce had been studying Sir Anthony van Dyck artwork for weeks when she noticed an odd detail (Image: BBC)

Mr Mould said: “Tragically 60 years later it was destroyed and it is only recorded through a few sketches and I think this is rather similar to yours.”

It had been authenticated by world leading Van Dyck expert Dr Christopher Brown, who verified that their beliefs were in fact correct.

Father MacLeod burst into laughter and smiled after being told the news, where he admitted: “I’m just completely in shock”.

The revelation meant the painting’s estimated value surged to £400,000 – a 1000 percent increase of the original £400 he originally paid.  

The priest explained his plans to purchase new bells for his Derbyshire chapel with the proceeds as a way to honour the soldiers of World War 1 – which he intended to install by 2018. 

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After months of restoration work, a long lost sketch was revealed beneath the piece (right) (Image: BBC)

Countdown blunder: Rachel Riley's huge mistake after replacing Carol Vorderman exposed

Father Jamie MacLeod (left) was speechless after discovering he had a Van Dyck original (Image: BBC)

He said: “I would like this country to be able to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War and I think that as a nation we owe that to the people who gave their lives.”

But tragedy would befall the forgotten piece when it went under the hammer at Christie’s Auction house, in July 2014.

A specialist from the team appeared delighted to have the item among their sale and gave a higher valuation for the piece, estimating it to be worth up to £500,000.

Freddie de Rougemont said: “The picture is of great importance as it provides a fascinating insight into Van Dyck’s working method and also constitutes a significant surviving document for the artist’s lost group portrait of ‘The Magistrates of Brussels.’”

But despite the hype, excitement and anticipation surrounding this long lost treasure, not all went to plan when it hit the auction block.

By the time the gavel struck for a final time, the piece that was listed in the ‘Old Masters and British Paintings’ catalogue had failed to sell after not receiving a single bid.  


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