Neglected painting identified as a van Dyke

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

An English museum has received confirmation that a painting in its collection since the 19th century is the work of Flemish Baroque master Anthony van Dyck.

Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter was purchased by the founders of the Bowes Museum in 1866 and has been in its collection since it opened to the public in 1892. However, because the work was in poor condition, it had long been relegated to storage.

“Its sophisticated drapery, coloring and facial expression are typical of van Dyck’s female portraits of the 1630s, although they were overlooked due to the painting’s poor condition, leading to it being recorded in the Museum’s files as, ‘School of Van Dyck,’” according to the museum.

But it was only through the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC’s Your Paintings website that the true identity of the artist was discovered.

“Art historian and dealer Dr. Bendor Grosvenor was perusing the Public Catalogue Foundation’s massive database of all 210,000 publicly owned paintings in the UK … to research an upcoming exhibition when he spotted the Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter,” according to The History Blog.

When Grosvenor suggested that it could be a work by van Dyke himself, the museum enlisted him and his colleagues at Philip Mould & Co., who have conserved more than 20 Van Dyck’s, to restore the painting.

“Taking a minimalist approach – removing all but the oldest layer of varnish and doing some minor retouching in areas where the paint was removed by prior cleanings, most notably in the left eye – conservators were able to reveal the glowing delicacy of the skin tones, fabric and draping,” according to the blog.

Anthony van Dyke, "Self Portrait With a Sunflower"

Anthony van Dyke, “Self Portrait With a Sunflower”

The conservation effort revealed “the tonal subtleties of the sitter’s skin and her white satin dress, together with the quality of the drawing,” museum official Jane Whittaker said.

When Bowes Museum founder John Bowes purchased the oil painting both the subject and artist were unidentified. The museum later determined the subject was Olive Boteler Porter, wife of Endymion Porter, a good friend of van Dyck’s and lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, according to The History Blog.

While in England, van Dyck painted a number of portraits of different members of the Porter family.

Olive was the daughter of Sir John Boteler and Elizabeth Villiers, niece of the Duke of Buckingham. Endymion Porter was an English diplomat and royalist who supported Charles I in the English Civil War.

Van Dyke (1599-1641) became the leading court painter in England. He is most famous for his portraits of Charles I and his family and court, although he also is noted for his works focusing on biblical and mythological subjects.

Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter is believed to have been painted in the 1630s.

After decades of being shut away in back rooms, the work is now on prominent display in the gallery of the museum, located in County Durham, in northeast England.

(Above: Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter, by Anthony van Dyck, c. 1633, Bowes Museum.)


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