A work of art from The Bowes Museum’s collection, revealed on the BBC’s Culture Show programme to be an authentic painting by Anthony van Dyck, is now on display in a specially commissioned new frame.
Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter, purchased by the Museum’s founders John & Joséphine Bowes, was recorded in the Museum files as ‘School of Van Dyck’, due to its poor overall appearance, but following a sympathetic programme of conservation, expert Dr Christopher Brown declared it an original by the 17th century Flemish Baroque artist who was the leading court painter of his day.
However, the beauty of the painting was let down by its somewhat distressed frame, but following collaboration between The Bowes Centre for Art, Craft and Design and the City and Guilds School of London, third year carving student Borys Burrough was invited to create a new frame to complement this important painting.
“Having worked as an art handler for Christies and a gilder for the respected London frame specialist Rollo Whately, Borys has an experienced eye,” said Matthew Read, Director of the Centre. “Given the project brief, he began in-depth research ahead of taking chisel to wood, visiting museums and historic houses in order to immerse himself in the subject matter.
“We are also extremely grateful to The Friends of The Bowes Museum for their funding of the new frame,” he added.
The brief asked that the frame be historically appropriate, in the auricular style common to the period; rather fortuitous, as it also happens to be the specialism of the Art School’s conservation tutor, Gerry Alabone, who, alongside the School’s carving tutors, advised on the project as it developed.
Subtly referencing the portrait’s sitter (who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta, and the wife of Van Dyck’s friend and patron Endymion Porter), Borys incorporated into his design an urn of ‘Viper Wine’, the Botox of its day, rumoured to plump up the complexion of wealthy ladies whose looks were fading! He also included the Auricula, a hardy and reliable plant popularised by early flower shows in the North of England, in a nod to the Museum’s location.
“This dream commission really tested all of the skills I’ve developed whilst studying,” said Boris. “The challenge of designing an historically faithful auricular frame while giving it a contemporary perspective has been one that I’ve really enjoyed.
“There are a few more hidden references to the story of Mrs Porter which I hope the viewer will have fun spotting,” he added. “I feel honoured to have been given this opportunity.”
Joanna Tait, Chair of the Friends of The Bowes Museum, said: “From the moment the painting was identified as a Van Dyck the Friends were most excited, so when the opportunity arose to consider an appropriate frame we were happy to fund it.
“We are very pleased with the innovative approach,” she added. “It works so well and we’re pleased that it reflects the era in which the painting first emerged.”
The painting, resplendent in its new frame, is now on show in the Museum’s picture gallery.