The cleaning and stabilization of a portrait almost always enhances its beauty. Occasionally a date, name or notation previously obscured may appear as cleaning proceeds. However, seldom is a portrait so transformed by conservation that an entirely different image is uncovered. Such a transformation occurred with the DAR Museum’s oil on canvas painting, “Head of a Young Woman.” Conservation yielded an exciting surprise: a baby nestled against its mother’s shoulder.
When the portrait arrived at the DAR Museum in 1959, it was sent promptly to a conservator who noted the inscription “Mother & Child / TS 1870” on the canvas. Despite an X-ray of the portrait, it was impossible to determine the composition of the underpainting—until its 2008 conservation.
Now titled “Mother and Child,” a popular term for such unidentified subjects, the painting still holds mystery. There is still no answer to the obvious question: Why was the infant painted over? Philadelphia painter Thomas Sully (1783–1872) painted several “Mother and Child” portraits. Whether this painting is the one he described as “begun Feb. 24th, 1870, finished the same day” is unknown.
The painting was a gift from Julia E. Caruthers. The object was adopted for conservation by Prairie Rose Chapter, Overland Park, Kan.; Carroll Campbell Strickland; Michael Stoner Chapter, Dallas, Texas; and individual contributors to the DAR Museum’s Adopt-an-Object conservation program. For more information about the program, call the DAR Museum Office at (202) 879–3241.
Volume 145, Number 5, September/October 2011 Page 7
Before photography by Helga Photo Studio; after photography by Mark Gulezian