A Museum Has Located a Missing Figure That Was Cut Out of This 17th-Century Family Portrait

A rare reunion has taken place at the Nivaagaard Collection in Denmark, as the museum has located the image of a woman, who, for nearly 200 years, has been missing from a 17th-century family portrait.

Double Portrait of a Father and Son (1626), painted by Flemish artist Cornelis de Vos in luminous color, sees a resplendent duo in bourgeois garb, the son tenderly clutching his father’s hand. But part of a dress, poking out of the lower right-hand corner of the picture, has long indicated that the painting was missing a figure—quite likely a mother, who had been cropped off at some point.

A research team, put together by the museum to study its Dutch baroque collection, duly set on a hunt for this missing woman last year.

They began with a 1966 conservation report by the National Gallery of Denmark, which provided another vital clue. The volume contained photographs of the painting without its frame following a restoration, revealing part of a woman’s arm, complete with an elaborate cuff. Her hand, with one finger encircled by a pricey ring, held a pair of embroidered gloves lined with red velvet.

An unframed Double Portrait of a Father and Son (1626), with a woman’s hand visible on the right. Photo: The Nivaagaard Collection.

Detail of the woman’s hand holding a pair of embroidered gloves. Photo: Screenshot from Nivaagaard Collection’s short film, The Lost Woman With the Brown Eyes.

“We began our search by looking for matchers among all the sitting women in de Vos’s oeuvre,” said Jørgen Wadum, the museum’s researcher and special consultant. “This turned up dozens of women amongst the archives of RKD [the Netherlands Institute for Art History] and the Getty Research Institute.”

Wadum then did the next logical thing: He googled “Cornelis de Vos portrait of a woman”—and he found her. “It was totally unexpected!” he said.

Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a Woman (1626), unrestored. Photo: The Nivaagaard Collection.

His search had led him to de Vos’s Portrait of a Woman (1626), an image of which appeared in a 2016 interview with Dutch art dealer Salomon Lilian. In 2014, Lilian had acquired the work at an auction at Christie’s London, and what’s more, had it cleaned and restored.

To the Nivaagaard team, the connections between the two paintings were plain. The elegant lady portrayed in Lilian’s painting wore a millstone collar similar to that of the father in Double Portrait; her brown eyes, too, matched those of the young son’s. The restoration also revealed that the brown background of Portrait of a Woman was merely overpainting; the woman actually stood against a landscape, filled in with some distant poplar trees and heavy clouds.

Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a Woman (1626), after restoration. Photo: The Nivaagaard Collection.

It was this backdrop that lined up with the one in Double Portrait, making them an undeniable match. “Fortunately, Lilian had had the painting restored,” said Wadum. “Otherwise, we may have missed the link to our double portrait.”

Portrait of a Woman is notably smaller than Double Portrait, its height only less than half of the larger work. Researchers believe the original family portrait may have been severed into two paintings, possibly after sustaining damage, around 1830–1859. Double Portrait was acquired by Danish businessman and Nivaagaard founder, Johannes Hage, in 1907.

The reunited family portrait. Photo: The Nivaagaard Collection

The team is also continuing to source the identity of the family as much as the provenance of the family portrait. They have homed in on the 1802 sale of a painting, titled A Family Picture of Three Portraits of De Vos, in London, a canvas that would reappear at various other auctions in England between 1812 and 1830. At these later sales, the portrait was curiously retitled or described as A Burgomaster, His Wife, and Son by De Vos (burgomaster denotes the mayor of a town)

“Is this merely an interpretation of the auctioneer, or did the lost upper and lower right corners of the canvas contain an inscription?” said researcher Angela Jager. “In any case, the ruling elite is exactly the type of clientele one would expect for a monumental family portrait by the sought-after portrait painter.”

While research is ongoing, the Nivaagaard Collection has acquired Portrait of a Woman with a grant from the New Carlsberg Foundation. The museum will exhibit both portraits as part of its Painting Collection, illustrating what museum director Andrea Rygg Karberg called “a huge scoop for Dutch baroque art history.”

Speaking about the reunited family portrait, he added: “All three of the subjects take on an entirely new dimension, depth, and glow when they are contemplated together as originally intended, rather than in isolation from each other.”


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Elizabeth Peyton Painted Lucas Zwirner’s Portrait for Her Debut Outing With His Dad’s Gallery + Other Stories

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know on this Tuesday, March 21.


Do George Bush’s Paintings Show More Regret Than He Admits? –  Two decades after he ordered the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq and took down Saddam Hussein, former President George W. Bush remains quiet, but critics are looking at his paintings to try to get a clue about how he felt about the war. “On the one hand, he appears to believe that his decision to invade Iraq was correct,” writes historian Melvyn P. Leffler. “On the other hand, looking at his book of paintings, you have to imagine that deep in his soul he feels a great deal of agony, of responsibility, of regret for those whose lives were scarred forever and for those who perished.” (The New York Times)

Elizabeth Peyton Makes Debut With David Zwirner – For its inaugural display of the artist’s work at an art fair, Zwirner has brought two portraits of the mega-gallerists heir apparent, each titled simply Lucas Zwirner (2022) to Art Basel in Hong Kong. Back in February, Petyon’s rumored defection from longtime gallerist Gladstone Gallery sparked chatter within the art world; her first solo show at the gallery’s London outpost is slated to take place in June. (ARTnews)

Will AI Make Human Art More Valuable? – The rise of generative AI model might have led some to believe that AI will make better art than most humans, but McGill University’s international political economy professor Krzysztof Pelc doesn’t think so. Pelc argues that the definition of “better” changes over time, as demonstrated over the course of history, and human artists will also win as our tastes evolve. (Wired)

Museum Planned for Mayan Complex – Chichén Itzá, the most visited archeological site in Mexico, is expecting a new museum to showcase the region’s latest archaeological discoveries. The yet-to-be named museum is still in the planning stage and is likely to follow the site museum model at other complexes. (The Art Newspaper)


Museum Closed Over Anticipated Climate Protests – The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston opted not to open after it was informed that activists were planning a protest that could potentially damage artworks and put staff and visitors at risk. The planned demonstration was set to take place on March 18, the 33rd anniversary of the infamous, and still unsolved heist, at the museum. (Press release)

Thaddaeus Ropac Now Reps Zadie Xa – The gallery has taken over exclusive representation of the buzzy artist, whose work is currently on display at London’s Whitechapel Gallery through the end of April. The Korean-Canadian artist’s work explores themes of personal and global identities in fantastical installations and mixed media works. The gallery sold two works by Xa each priced £20,000 ($24,500) on the first day of Art Basel Hong Kong. (Press release)

Peres Projects Seoul New Space Opening – After its first year with an Asian outpost, Peres Projects is expanding with a second gallery in the Sagan-dong neighborhood of Seoul. The four-floor space will open on April 28, 2023 with two inaugural exhibitions: a solo show of London-based Cece Phillips and a group show including Manuel Solano, Austin Lee, and Rafa Silvares, among others. (Press release)


Museums Reattribute Artworks Classified as Russian – Museums are renaming artworks and artists previously attributed as Russian into Ukrainian to reflect the roots of the works and the artists. Edgar Degas’s Russian Dancers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for example, is now called Dancers in Ukrainian Dress. (NYT)

Edgar Degas, <i>Ukrainian Dancers</i>. Photo by: Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Edgar Degas, Ukrainian Dancers. Photo by: Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

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This Creepy 17th-Century Baby Portrait Was Found in the Home of an ‘Eccentric’ English Farmer. It May Fetch $24,000 at Auction

For years, a 17th-century portrait of a child hid on the back of a door in an English cottage that was crammed with antiques, rarely seen even by the eccentric collector who lived there. 

Now, following the owner’s death, the artwork is set to hit the auction block in London, where it’s estimated to fetch £18,000 to £20,000 ($21,500 to $24,000).

That’s a lot for an artwork relegated to the back of a door. But if you’re wondering why such a valuable piece of art didn’t garner a more prominent placement in the Surrey home, well the painting itself may hold the answer: It’s creepy as hell. 

Hansons, the auction house set to sell the piece on January 28, calls the portrait’s subject a “miniature adult.” But the phrase “weirdly big baby” may better capture this picture’s particular brand of uncanniness. 

Painted nearly 400 years ago, it depicts a cherubic toddler decked out in an ankle-length gown and a lace collar. Stiffly upright the child stands next to a table, the proportions of which make her seem at least four-and-a-half feet tall. 

“I was surprised to find such a compelling portrait hidden away,” said Hansons associate director Chris Kirkham in a statement. “However, I discovered there was a reason for it. The keen collector who acquired it had downsized some years before and brought all of his much-loved antiques with him.”

“His collection included several paintings which were hung on much smaller walls than they had originally been intended for,” Kirkham went on. “He struggled for display space and this little girl in all her finery got tucked away behind a door. Sadly, the collector passed away and this centuries-old work was forgotten.”

It was only by chance that the auction house executive happened to look on the other side of the door, which otherwise remained perpetually propped open. “I just happened to move it and thank goodness I did,” he said.

Courtesy of Hansons Auctioneers.

The piece is being commissioned by the collector’s daughter, who called her father “an eccentric and a collector of all types of antiques and curios.” 

“He had a really good eye for unusual objects and art,” she said. “It offered him a hobby away from his working life as a farmer.”

She noted that she thinks the man “may have purchased the painting at auction many years ago but can’t be sure.”

In the upper register of the canvas is the artist’s name, Adriaen Verkins, and the date it was created, 1626. Hansons suggests that Verkins may have been a Dutch artist whose work—heavily influenced by that of masters like Van Dyck and Rubens—was otherwise lost to time.

The painting will be offered in the company’s Fine Art and Antiques Auction on January 28.

“It is remarkable what we find hidden away in homes, often forgotten and, in this case, behind a door,” added the auction house’s owner, Charles Hanson. “Collectors tend to fill their homes with so many wonderful items over the course of decades, it is easy to lose sight of which ones may be of special significance.”

“When you look into this little girl’s eyes you are swept back to the early 17th century. Fashions of the time for the rich—the poor were in rags—were showy and laden with ornamentation. Jewelry, lace, and multiple contrasting fabrics displayed wealth. This portrait is a remarkable find. It is like a time capsule offering an insight into the life of a wealthy child.”

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Conservators at the Met Have Discovered a Hidden Composition Under Jacques Louis David’s Portrait of a Famed Chemist

In 2019, Jacques Louis David’s famed neoclassical portrait of chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and his wife, Marie Anne, was sent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s conservation lab. The job was straightforward—the removal of a varnish. But in the process, researchers discovered something else, too: a hidden composition under the painting.

The painting we know depicts the Lavoisiers as assiduous leaders of a scientific revolution. A humbly attired Marie Anne leans over her husband, who is seated at a red-swathed table, hard at work before a bevy of specialized instruments. 

Jacques-Louis David, <i>Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and Marie-Anne Lavoisier (Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836)</i> (1788). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jacques Louis David, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and Marie Anne Lavoisier (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836) (1788). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But after months of analysis—via such techniques as infrared reflectography and macro X-ray fluorescence mapping—experts learned that David’s original painting of Lavoisier and his wife was far less flattering, depicting the couple as well-heeled members of the nobility, luxuriating in their lavish lifestyle. In the artist’s original sketch, the instruments are gone, the table is bare and inlaid with gilt brass details, and Marie Anne dons a swanky plumed hat. 

The restored painting has now been returned to the Met’s neoclassical galleries. It looks like it always has, but its context has changed.

“The revelations about Jacques Louis David’s painting completely transform our understanding of the centuries-old masterpiece,” said Max Hollein, director of the Met, in a statement. “More than 40 years after the work first entered the museum’s collection, it is thrilling to gain new insights into the artist’s creative process and the painting’s evolution.”

Left: a map showing the combined elemental distribution of lead and mercury in David's painting. Right: an infrared reflectogram of the canvas.

Left: a map showing the combined elemental distribution of lead and mercury in David’s painting. Right: an infrared reflectogram of the canvas. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Born in 1743, Lavoisier was responsible for a number of major contributions to modern science, including the metric system, the first table of elements, and the discovery of oxygen and hydrogen. His wife, born in 1758, was instrumental to many of these innovations, often assisting Lavoisier with tests. 

However, with his success, Lavoisier was also firmly entrenched in France’s Ancien Régime, the dominant system of rule upended by the revolution in the last decade of the 18th century. During that period, he was arrested by for his complicity as a tax collector, and eventually executed via guillotine in May 1794.

David’s 6-by-9 foot portrait was completed in 1788, just prior to the revolution. The artist intended to debut the work at a salon in 1789 but, according to the Met, he was convinced to pull the fawning tribute at the last minute by royal authorities, who were alarmed by rising tensions pointing to the coming overthrow. The painting wasn’t seen by the public until a century later, at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and Marie Anne Lavoisier (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836) was purchased for the Met in 1977 by philanthropists Charles and Jayne Wrightsman.

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Kehinde Wiley’s Presidential Portrait of Barack Obama Is Arriving in New York. Here Are 3 Things You Might Not Know About It

In recent history, few artworks have captured the public imagination quite like the Obama Portraits—the official portraits of 44th U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, which set off a media firestorm when they were unveiled in 2018. 

The president’s portrait, painted by Kehinde Wiley, and the first lady’s, painted by Ashley Sherald, marked a sharp—and refreshing—departure from the staid, traditional styles with which these official portraits had become synonymous. 

And it wasn’t just the art world that was enthralled. When the portraits went on view at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., attendance skyrocketed 300 percent. Visitors not infrequently broke down in tears before the paintings. 

Since then, the public’s enthusiasm has not waned. Now, in an attempt to bring the images to a wider audience, both portraits have been sent on a cross-country museum tour that will last into spring 2022. With the first leg at the Art Institute of Chicago having just ended, the portraits will go on view at the Brooklyn Museum next week, from August 27–October 24. They will then travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Museum in Atlanta, and the MFA Houston.  

To mark the tour, as well as President Obama’s recent 60th birthday, we decided to take a closer look at Kehinde Wiley’s foliage-filled portrait. Here are three details that just might change the way you see it.

1) Wiley Does Away With (Most) Of His Famed Historical Motifs 

Kehinde Wiley, Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005). Collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

Kehinde Wiley, Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005). Collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

One of the most celebrated artists of our generation, Kehinde Wiley has defined his career with monumental oil paintings that often place Black men and women into traditional Western art-historical iconography and against lushly colorful, patterned backgrounds.

Arguably his most famous painting, Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005), which is in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, reinterprets Jacques Louis David’s Neoclassical masterpiece Napoleon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Great St. Bernard Pass (1801–5). Given Wiley’s dexterity with these political and art-historical references, one might have expected his take on the U.S. presidency—an office with no shortage of historical imagery associated with it—to be filled with eager eggs. 

Instead, Wiley set Obama, the first African American president, in an environment free of overt references, though he retains the imposing physical scale of the history paintings he often echoes. (This one measures over seven feet tall.) Other points of inspiration are even subtler. Obama’s left foot, as New Yorker writer Vinson Cunningham aptly pointed out, doesn’t press into the earth as one might imagine, but floats in an almost otherworldly way, like a Byzantine saint in a golden eternal realm.

Here, Obama the person, rather than the office, is the focus. He is dressed in a nondescript black suit and white shirt, open at the collar, leaning forward toward the viewer with his arms crossed, as though he were listening or just about to speak. His expression could be seen as stern or reassuring. By eliminating any easily decoded symbols, Wiley offers a portrait that revels in its own ambiguity.


2) Those Flowers Are More Than a Pretty Backdrop 

Detail of Kehinde Wiley's Barack Hussein Obama (2018). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Detail of Kehinde Wiley’s Barack Hussein Obama (2018). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Where, we might ask ourselves, is the president meant to be, exactly? Seated in a varnished antique chair, he hovers against a lush green backdrop of leaves and flowers. (The enveloping background inspired some Internet jokesters to compare the image to the famous meme of Homer Simpson getting swallowed up by a green hedge.) 

Wiley painted this portrait working from a series of photographs he made of the president and the image has been celebrated (rightly) for its verisimilitude. But the artist paid almost equal attention to the decorative elements of the picture. The highly varnished rosewood of mahogany chair rosewood of mahogany is a highly specific and yet unreal conglomeration of 18th and 19th styles with curved arms, inlaid patterns, and an oval back that combine aspects of English regency and American styles. (It’s worth noting that the decorative arts have, perhaps more than any other art form, quietly been shaped by the histories of trade, colonization, and warfare, from Chinoiserie to the Egyptian influence on Art Deco. Wiley’s blending of styles seems to purposely confound this connoisseurship).

As with many of his paintings, Wiley does not keep the flora neatly in the background but allows it to curl and twist with its own agency. Upon closer examination, the greenery is laden with symbolism: jasmine references Hawaii, where Obama was born; the African blue lilies represent Kenya, Obama’s father’s birthplace (Wiley’s father is Nigerian); and chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, the city where his political career began and where, of course, he met Michelle Obama. 


3) The Portrait Harkens Back to the Very First of the Presidential Portraits   

Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of George Washington known at the "Lansdowne" portrait (1796). Collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of George Washington known as the “Lansdowne” portrait (1796). Collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

While Wiley has done away with his boldest art-historical references, that antique-looking chair Obama is sitting in has conjured up some critical interpretations. Art critic Holland Cotter noted in his New York Times review that Wiley’s portrait bears some resemblance to ​​Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington, a version of which has hung in the East Room of the White House since 1800.

As Cotter notes, “the clothes are an 18th-century version of current POTUS style: basic black suit and fat tie.” Plus, the “vaguely throne-like chair [is] not so different from the one seen in Stuart’s Washington portrait.”

While in another context, this might seem an interpretive stretch, here it feels intentional: in the first presidential portrait, Washington stands beside an empty chair. Two hundred and twenty years later, Obama, the first African American president to occupy the White House (a house built by slaves), has taken a seat at the proverbial table.

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