Family reunited after two centuries apart – proof of the transformative qualities of time in the world of art

Only recently, Prince Philip was reburied to lie next to his wife, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, at Windsor Castle. In a temporary tomb, he was the queen’s last in waiting.

It’s common enough for spouses to be reunited in the grave, and sometimes it can take ages – in the case of author Raymond Chandler and his wife Cissy, after 52 years of lying in separate cemeteries, just a mile apart.

But if you think that’s a long time, try 200 years on for size! The art world is waking up to the news today that a family portrait cut in half in the early 19th century is finally being restored.

It took many years of detective work by Danish and Dutch art historians to realize the reunion of a family painted by the Flemish master Cornelis de Vos in 1626. For almost two centuries, two of its three members have stood in the Dutch Baroque section of the Nivaagaard Samling in Nivå just north of Copenhagen.

Not exactly ‘The Da Vinci Code’
During that time, it became apparent to the museum that perhaps there was more to ‘Double Portrait of a Father and Son’ than meets the eye, because next to the Son, in the lower right corner, another person’s costume, a black-striped satin skirt, could be clearly seen.

The discovery of a 1966 National Museum of Art conservation report then revealed further details. It contained images showing how the removal of the frame, some varnish and a top coat of paint had revealed a woman’s arm – complete with “elaborate cuff, delicate hand, precious ring and beautifully embroidered gloves lined with red velvet”.

Now, it may be disappointing to learn at this point that the breakthrough in the matter was not lifted from the pages of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ – nor was the deciphering of a Fibonacci sequence nor was old anagram involved.

Instead, it came via Google.

Talk about a clean slate
Admittedly, ‘Portrait of a Lady’, a painting by the same artist in the same year, was already on Professor Jørgen Wadum’s radar because Lady wore the same kind of millstone collar as father and son.

But nothing else matched when the art historian compared the portrait to images of ‘Portrait of a Lady’. It was at this point that he tried to google ‘portrait of a lady’ and the search turned up a perfect match.

It turned out that the new owner of the painting, via a Christie’s auction in 2014, had the painting cleaned and voila: the dark brown background turned out to be an outer layer of paint. Below appeared a landscape and cloudy sky, identical to that in ‘Double Portrait of a Father and Son’.

Also, Lady’s facial features and brown eyes match Son’s.

It seems he was the mayor
The height of the two paintings is significantly different, and Professor Wadum’s best guess is that the original painting was damaged between 1830 and 1859 and that the owner chose to divide them to preserve the similarities as best as possible.

It is in 1859 that the earliest mention of ‘Double Portrait of a Father and Son’ can be found – among works belonging to John Rushout, 2nd Baron Northwick.

Depicting two generations of a wealthy bourgeois family, the father is believed to be a burgomaster (mayor) and the original work was called ‘A Burgomaster, his Wife, and Son by De Vos’.

But it’s not proven…yet.

Reunited again!
As part of its research, the Nivaagaard Collection has been able to purchase ‘Portrait of a Lady’ with the help of the New Carlsberg Foundation.

“It has made it possible for our visitors to keep the whole family here in Nivå,” said director of the Nivaagaard Collection, Andrea Rygg Karberg, enthusiastically.

“It is a great scoop for Dutch Baroque art history and for our collection that research has led us to the discovery of this incredible female portrait,” she continued.

“The mother is now looking at us with her son, whose gaze is so similar to hers. All three subjects take on a whole new dimension, depth and glow when considered together as originally conceived, rather than in isolation from each other.”

Source: The Nordic Page




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