Leading scholars have revealed that a vivid portrait of a young girl, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York believed to be one of the least valuable pictures in their collection, is a genuine work by the girl’s father, Peter Paul Rubens. It will go on display as a fully attributed work in the Flemish master painter’s own house in Antwerp, as part of the upcoming exhibition: “Rubens in Private: the Master Portrays his Family”. 

In 2013 the painting, entitled Portrait of a Young Girl, possibly Clara Serena Rubens, was sold by the Met via Sotheby’s in New York in order to benefit their acquisitions fund. It was given an estimate of $20,000 – 30,000 and catalogued as a work by a ‘follower of Rubens’. The quality of the painting was spotted by a number of bidders, and it fetched $626,500. According to various sources the painting was bought by a London dealer and is now on long-term loan to the Prince of Lichtenstein, who already owns an undisputed painting by Rubens of his young daughter dating from 1616.

This is not the first time the painting has been considered authentic. It was downgraded by the Rubens expert Julius Held in 1959. But today, the attribution has been accepted by Ben van Beneden, the director of the Rubenshuis, who dates it from 1620 to 1623, the year when Clara died at the age of 12. He is supported by Katelijne Van der Stighelen, who wrote the exhibition catalogue entry and is working on a catalogue raisonné of Rubens’ portraits. However, the decision is not excepted by all. The Art Newspaper has reported that David Jaffe, a Rubens specialist and former National Gallery senior curator, says he remains “doubtful” about the attribution to Rubens.