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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

After Years in Storage, Van Dyk Painting Finds Its Place at the MFA in Boston

The Koch Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston The Koch Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Arts Journal

There was a time when Anthony Van Dyck’s Isabella, Lady de La Warr was considered one of the most important paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Purchased in 1930 for $121,440 by the MFA donor, Mrs. Frederick T. Bradbury, the work went on view in the Hamilton Palace period room. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the painting went into storage that Isabella’s future started to look bleak.

When Malcolm Rogers rediscovered Isabella not long after he took over as the MFA’s director in 1994, he found the painting’s surface was discolored from protective varnishes and shoddy retouching had left the work with mismatched paint. Painted by the Flemish artist in 1638 during a stay in England, Rogers knew that Isabella could be recovered. A technical examination in 2011 reinforced Rogers’ belief.

The painting underwent nearly a year of restoration by the MFA’s paintings conservator, Rhona MacBeth and has just been installed in the MFA’s newly renovated Koch Gallery. Depicting an elegant woman, the wife of Lord Henry who served as a diplomat and treasurer of one of Van Dyck’s most famous subjects, England’s King Charles I, the painting is an excellent example of aristocratic portraiture that was in high demand by American collectors during the first few decades of the 20th century.

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