L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A lady, lost. And found.

Languishing in storage, having been part of the collection of the Bowes Museum in northeast England since that establishment/s opening in 1892, this portrait was considered “a copy after Sir Anthony Van Dyck.” Purchased in Paris in 1866 by the museum's founder, John Bowes, the sitter at first went unidentified. The museum later determined that the subject was Olivia Boteler Porter, wife of Endymion Porter - who was a good friend of Van Dyck’s - and lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Until recently, its poor condition and less than stellar attribution resulted in its banishment to a storeroom.

Only a few years ago, searching online, art historian, dealer, and van Dyck specialist, Bendor Grosvenor found an image of the painting - dirty, damaged, and covered in layers of yellowed varnish - and felt that it might actually be a work of the master himself. After a careful cleaning and conservation, the portrait is now acknowledged to be by the hand of van Dyck, and is once again - rightfully - on display in the museum.


Olivia Boteler Porter was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. She had adopted the Queen’s Catholicism in 1637 and was a zealous adherent of her new faith, converting several of her fellow noblewomen, and even kidnapping her dying father - brother of the Duke of Buckingham - in a brazen attempt to save his soul before time ran out. She and the Queen openly defied Parliament, publicly flaunting their conversions; Parliament was not amused. They saw Olive as a dangerous agitator, maybe even a spy for Catholic Spain, and their suspicion would also fall on her husband, even though he had never converted. The couple fled the country in 1646 during the English Civil War, when the Royalist cause appeared lost and Parliament was in control of the country. It seems likely they took the painting with them and later sold it in France; it is recorded as being in the collection of the ducs de Montbazon not long after that date.

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