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An exciting discovery at the Bowes Museum: Painting revealed as authentic work by van Dyck
Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641), Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter (before restoration), The Bowes Museum.

COUNTY DURHAM.- A work of art from The Bowes Museum’s collection has been revealed on national television as an authentic painting by the artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), a 17th century Flemish Baroque artist who was the leading court painter of his day.

The story behind Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter, purchased by The Bowes Museum’s founders, John & Joséphine Bowes in 1866, was broadcast on the flagship BBC2 programme, the Culture Show, on Saturday (9th March).

The painting – an oil on canvas – has been in the collection since the building opened to the public in 1892. Its sophisticated drapery, colouring 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’.

However, thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC Your Paintings comprehensive photographic record - which has recorded the ‘hidden paintings’ in collections of museums and other public buildings across the country – The portrait came to the attention of Dr. Bendor Grosvenor when he was carrying out research for an exhibition in the PCF catalogue (which the Your Paintings website has now put online).

The painting was originally thought to be a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, but later research identified the sitter as the queen’s lady-in-waiting, Olive Boteler Porter, the wife of Van Dyck’s friend and patron Endymion Porter. While in England, Van Dyck painted a number of portraits of different members of the family. Olive was the daughter of Sir John Boteler and Elizabeth Villiers, niece of the Duke of Buckingham. The red carnation in her hair might be an heraldic motif, since it appears in other images of female members of the Villiers family.

“A sympathetic programme of conservation has 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,” said the Museum’s Principal Keeper, Jane Whittaker. “The painting has now been examined by a number of Van Dyck scholars who agree that a previously unknown work by this artist has been hiding in the Museum’s picture store.

“We were delighted to welcome the Culture Show to The Bowes Museum, and equally delighted with the outcome of the research,” she added.

The restored painting has now gone on show to the public. The Museum will receive further television coverage later this year when a documentary about automata is aired on BBC4 in early summer, featuring the unique, life-size Silver Swan musical automaton.

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