CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Family Portrait by Cornelis de Vos Reunited with Missing Part

A joint research project by The Nivaagaard Collection and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has led to the reconstruction and reuniting of a seventeenth-century Flemish family portrait. The double portrait of a father and son, painted by Cornelis de Vos in 1626, seemed to be missing a part displaying a woman. Through art historical research, the portrait of the mother was found and reunited with the picture of her husband and son at the Danish museum.

Cornelis de Vos (1584-1651), Double Portrait of a Father and Son, 1626
Nivaagaards Malerisamling, Nivå

The large Double Portrait of a Father and Son (138 x 119 cm), painted in 1626 by the Antwerp portrait painter, Cornelis de Vos (1584–1651) depicts two generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in the form of a father tenderly holding his son by the hand. In the lower right-hand corner of the painting, a glimpse of a dress can still be seen, indicating that the work once also depicted a mother who must have subsequently been cropped away. As part of the research project Dutch and Flemish paintings at The Nivaagaard Collection, Jørgen Wadum, special consultant at The Nivaagaard Collection, and Dr. Angela Jager, curator at the RKD, started the search for the missing mother. In a 1966 conservation report of the National Gallery of Denmark, SMK, they found photographs showcasing the artwork without its frame and in a cleaned and restored condition. On these pictures, part of the arm of the lost woman could be seen, as well as her elaborate cuff and her delicate hand, adorned with a costly ring and holding a pair of beautifully embroidered gloves lined with red velvet.

Cornelis de Vos (1584-1651), Portrait of a Woman, 1626
Nivaagaards Malerisamling, Nivå

Wadum and Jager continued their search by looking for comparable portraits of seated women in the oeuvre of De Vos. To their great excitement, this led them to identify a portrait of an elegant lady with a large millstone collar like that of the father in the double portrait. It was De Vos’ Portrait of a Lady from 1626, which was auctioned for sale at Christie’s in London in 2014. At the time, the background of the portrait was dark brown in colour. The new owner, Salomon Lilian, an art dealer in Amsterdam and Geneva, had had the portrait cleaned and restored soon after its acquisition. This revealed a landscape with a row of trees in the background behind the lady, as well as a blue sky with white horizontal clouds. The overcast skies match up in both paintings to such an extent that there can be no doubt that they were once part of the same family portrait. The woman’s facial features and brown eyes also match those of her son perfectly.

Reconstruction by Jørgen Wadum

Not only was the missing woman now found, the Portrait of a Lady also turned out to be on sale. A grant from the New Carlsberg Foundation allowed Nivaagaards Malerisamling to acquire the portrait of the mother, reuniting her with her husband and son after a separation of nearly two hundred years. Now it remains for the researchers to find out exactly which family has been reunited in these pictures.