How these artistic sleuths reunited a family after centuries of separation
After years of research and detective work, the family was reunited. However, this is not a typical story.
In 1626, father and son posed for a portrait. The father rests in an armchair with a fancy mustache and goatee, as well as a large millstone collar around his neck, a frilled accessory worn by many in the early 17th century. His son poses next to him with rosy cheeks, dressed in modern children’s clothing.
This particular painting called “Double portrait of father and son” is a vision of wealth. Not only because of the expensive-looking clothes that father and son wear, but also because WHO painted their portrait – Cornelis De Vos.
“He was very popular, so if you could get him to portray your family, then you were a rich and powerful family,” said Angela Jaeger, curator of old master paintings at the RKD-Netherlands Institute of Art History.
There is a loving and tender dynamic in the portrait.
“Father and son holding hands so tenderly look like a unity in itself. You could easily imagine that this is a finished painting if you didn’t have such an over-observant eye,” said Yager.
Jørgen Vadum is a consultant for the Nivaagaard collection in Denmark and an independent researcher. Part of his job as a restorer is to unpack paintings and carefully examine them from front to back and around the edges.
Vadum and Jaeger worked together to study paintings by old Dutch and Flemish masters in the Nivaagaard collection. Upon stumbling upon a De Vos painting of a father and son, Jaeger and Vadum noticed something in the lower right corner of the painting.
“A pair of knees were covered by a black striped dress,” Vadum said. “We saw right away that there was a story here that we didn’t know much about yet.”
From this it was clear that the missing person was sitting next to the father and son. This caused the couple to act to find out who it could be.
Their first clue came from photographs that showed the artwork in a cleaned and restored state. The photograph also shows that there was a hand in the bottom corner that appeared to belong to a woman.
“There really was a very fashionable lady sitting here with thin fingers and a pair of rings on her fingers,” Vadum said. “In her hand she held beautifully embroidered red-lined gloves.”
This prompted Vadum to start looking for portraits of seated women in De Vos’ repertoire – without the right hand, of course. It was a Google search that led Vadum and Jaeger to finally find the missing woman.
They stumbled upon a portrait of a woman seated against a backdrop of a garden to one side and some trees, which “matches perfectly with the picture we have here, even the backdrop—the sky and the shroud of whitish clouds matched so perfectly,” Vadum. said.
Not only did they find their missing woman, her portrait was indeed for sale. “Thus, the museum had the opportunity to buy it and reunite the family. So it was a really great day,” Jaeger said.
The last secret
The original painting was painted in 1626. Jaeger suggests that the portrait was probably carved in the first half of the 19th century.
As to why the painting was split in half, Jaeger said the original could have been damaged by water or fire.
“It could also explain why we only have the woman’s face and not her torso,” Vadum notes.
The paintings now hang side by side in the Nivaagard collection, the family reunited after almost two centuries of separation.
The next step in Vadum and Jaeger’s research is to find out WHO family in the picture. And they are also already working on another reunion next year.
“So this is a cliffhanger and next spring we will bring [paintings] together again [that] have not been together since 1801,” said Vadum.
And Vadum asks one more question to finish: how many paintings do we find in museums that look intact but are actually unfinished?
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