How restorations ruined Girl With a Flute | Letter

If the painting ever was a Vermeer, restorers have made sure that it no longer is so, says Michael Daley of ArtWatch UK

If Girl With a Flute at Washington’s National Gallery of Art ever was a Vermeer, successive picture restorers have made sure that it no longer is so (When is a Vermeer not a Vermeer? Reputations on the line over authenticity of artwork, 2 January). In 1940, it was judged a Vermeer on its “utmost delicacy of glaze and stipple”.

You report that the paint has now been found (after two restorations by the museum) to be “heavy-handed” in a way that “pooled and almost dripped”. Distinct features on the painting were lost or weakened in each restoration. Before the first, the girl had a solid necklace, dark eyebrows and a strongly lit and shaded face. Those features were greatly weakened and the necklace was left much thinner with a small break in the first restoration. In the second, ahead of the previous travelling Vermeer blockbuster exhibitions of 1995-96, published photographs showed that all the features were further weakened and the necklace had lost its central section. After that cleaning, the remains of the necklace were almost, but not entirely, painted out by the restorer.

ArtWatch first complained of these restorations in 1995 and, in 2001, we published photographs showing the succession of injuries. So far as we know, none of the art historians now squabbling over the attribution have discussed the restoration injuries.
Michael Daley
Director, ArtWatch UK

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