Swansea scientists and art experts have combined to solve the mystery of an historic city painting.
Specialists from Swansea University and the council’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery worked together to establish key facts about the oil – including the artist’s identity.
Their detailed work included precise analysis of some of the paint along with loving repairs to the image.
The city centre gallery is now hosting a new exhibition – Indigo: Collections, Conservation, Chemistry – that features the painting and tells its story. The painting dates from the late 17th or early 18th century.
Council cabinet member Robert Francis-Davies said: “The research on this project has been admirable and has helped solve a mystery dating back more than a century.
“I hope that people will be intrigued and will visit the exhibition to find out the whole story!”
The painting was listed in the Glynn Vivian’s original 1911 catalogue as Queen Anne as Princess by Sir Peter Lely.
An investigation began a number of years ago, with gallery conservation officer Jenny Williamson carefully cleaning and restoring the canvas.
The identity of the painter was solved with the help of archives and analytical chemistry. A variety of techniques were used, particularly when studying a blue pigment from the young woman’s dress.
Swansea University scientists Dr Cecile Charbonneau, Dr Ann Hunter and Katie Hebborn, a PhD student, worked with Jenny to determine the chemical nature of pigments. They offered clues essential to discovering the painter’s identity.
The work is now thought to be by Swedish-born portrait painter Michael Dahl (1659-1743), and the gallery is changing its title to Portrait of a Young Lady from the Court of Queen Anne. It’s on display in the new exhibition.
Jenny Williamson said: “I feel privileged that I could do the conservation work, which has revealed the quality and the colours of this painting.”
Research officer Dr Hunter said: “Working together as a team has shown how multi-disciplinary art and science can be.”
Senior lecturer Dr Charbonneau said: “The Glynn Vivian project was for me, a way to go back to doing forensics science and analysis of art, which is something that was so dear to me.”
The new exhibition is a partnership between the Glynn Vivian and Swansea University. It’s funded by a grant from The Royal Society of Chemistry Outreach Fund, with support from the gallery, the council, SPECIFIC, Beacon and the university with support from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and European Regional Development Fund.
Indigo: Collections, Conservation and Chemistry Glynn Vivian, Sep 15-Feb 27, Free entry, www.glynnvivian.co.uk
Lead Image: Part of the painting Portrait of a Young Lady from the Court of Queen Anne. (Image: Swansea Council)
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