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Cupids rediscovered in Tate painting

13 July 2007 by Sam

I’ve just been shown this really cool feature about The Rediscovery of John Hayls’ A Portrait of a Lady and a Boy with Pan 1655-9 on the Tate Conservation website. It’s written by Helen Brett, one of our former paintings conservators who was based at the Walker Art Gallery at the same time I was. It’s great to see that her talents are being put to good use down in the capital!

I have to confess, when I saw the title I was expecting to see a painting of two people with a kitchen utensil, not a Greek god. That’s what comes of watching too much Gordon Ramsay I guess.

The painting itself has a fascinating history, which Helen gradually uncovered during the conservation. During the 1930s – long before the Tate acquired the painting in 1995, I should point out – a previous owner overpainted large areas, hiding two Cupids, or putti, holding a wreath in the background, as well as several other details. You can see below how the putti were revealed as the overpaint was removed.

That was just one part of the story though, as another layer of earlier overpainting was revealed underneath. It still amazes me how people treat paintings sometimes – as well as the skilfull ways that conservators combat that mistreatment. Do have a read of the full article, it’s quite a tale.

painting of sky, with squares removed to reveal a face and foot painted underneath

Detail of the partly conserved painting. Copyright Tate, London 2007

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