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Van Dyck Discovery

In 1866 John Bowes purchased this painting as one of a pair from Madame Lepautre, one of his regular dealers in Paris. The sitter was simply referred to as ‘a lady’  In 2013, the painting was firmly attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck,  the most important artist at work in England in the 17th century. 

Over the years, the picture became obscured by an old, discoloured varnish, as well as paint loss to the sitter’s left eye and hair. The sophisticated drapery, colouring and facial expression typical of Van Dyck’s female portraits of the 1630s were therefore overlooked, due to the painting’s poor overall appearance. But thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC Your Paintings comprehensive photographic record of oil paintings in public ownership in Britain, the painting came to the attention of art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor, who was carrying out research into Van Dyck’s lost paintings.

A sympathetic programme of conservation has now removed the disfiguring varnish layers, revealing the tonal subtleties of the sitter’s skin and her white satin dress, together with the quality of the drawing. The painting has been examined by a number of Van Dyck scholars who agree that a previously unknown work by Anthony van Dyck has been hiding in The Bowes Museum’s picture store for many years.

The Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), was well known for his portraits of King Charles I and his family, together with the noblemen and women of his court. Recent research has proved that this painting depicts Henrietta Maria’s lady-in-waiting, Olive Boteler Porter (d. 1633), the wife of Van Dyck’s close friend and patron, Endymion Porter. Olive Porter was the daughter of Sir John Boteler and Elizabeth Villiers, niece of the Duke of Buckingham. The red carnation in her hair may be an heraldic motif, since it appears in other images of female members of the Villiers family. 

The BBC recorded the discovery of the true identity of the painting’s creator in a Culture Show programme first aired in March 2013.