Thursday 22 July 2010

Portrait of a Lady

We found her languishing - grubby and unloved - at Sothebys in Milan, several years ago. Generations of grime had left her peering out from a stygian gloom that could have been the depths of a coalmine, for all it was possible to tell, and the canvas sat within a tacky, vaguely art-deco gilt frame of apologetically mean proportions. Sloppily, Sothebys attributed her to John Riley (it's standard, clearly - anything from that period that they can't be bothered to think about gets listed as being either by Riley or by Kneller), but in fact she's a relatively early Michael Dahl. Same period, better painter.

A trip back to London to be cleaned, and suddenly colours emerged, an elaborate coiffure, and a sylvan landscape disappearing off in the background. Obviously a lady from the later Stuart Court, we have no idea exactly who she was - although her features have a strongly 'House of Windsor' look to them, and she could readily be (the current) Princess Anne in fancy dress. How she ended up, in the twenty-first century, being Lot No.182 on a rainy November afternoon in Milan is anybody's guess...

Eventually, after much searching, we found a replacement frame for her - the canvas is an unusual proportion, and it was ages before something of exactly the right size came up at Bonhams - and then the fun started! When we went to pick the frame up, not only was it too large for the car, but we couldn't even fit it into the back of a Black Cab... and eventually carried it home between us, going the back way, via Montpellier Square and the bum end of Holy Trinity, Brompton Road. Then, it turned out to be too large to fit through the cargo door of an Airbus, so had to sit around in London - for many months - until the next time we were shipping enough things down to Italy to make sense of a truckload.
And, once it got here, it was clear that the frame was too tall for the room in Via Fucini which the portrait then graced, and there was a conflict between a ceiling vault and a quantity of gilded gesso. So, again, the frame sat around doing nothing for a year or so...and it was only once we were moving house that an appropriate wall became available for it. In much need of restoration, the frame was delivered to Juliana about six months ago, for her to work miracles on...which she duly did. Yesterday, for the first time, canvas and frame were united, and the end result is stunning.

The Lady herself looks pleased with the result. Which means everybody is happy.

Tonight's Dinner:

Snails, in Garlic Butter.

Guinea Fowl in Champagne Sauce; Swiss Chard, baked with Parmesan.

Peach and Apricot Tarts.


Kim said...

noblesse oblige

Pomiane said...

Happily so...