Portrait Painting in the Light of Restoring An English Youth by an Unknown Artist


During reconstruction of the Museum of Fine arts, which began in 2015, the plan is to continue restoration work and art historical research more intensively. With that in mind, attention has focussed on one of the outstanding items in the museum’s English collection, An English Youth, a portrait with the initials ‘J.M’, an unknown 18th-century master. For three decades (1896-1925) the art historian Gábor Térey headed the National Picture Gallery and the Fine Arts Museum, and when the museum opened in 1906 it was thanks to his specialist work that the collection of English paintings, among others, could begin. The painting selected for restoration was first presented in Hungary in 1916 by the art historian Gyula Kaszab, as part of the estate of the German painter Paul Meyerheim, and thus initially it was attributed to a German master. In a note of 1967 it was mentioned as an English work by the museologist and art historian Andor Pigler (1899–1992), who compiled an illustrated catalogue of the Old Picture Gallery. It should be highlighted that although no signature can be seen on the painting, there does exist a pendant depicting a young girl (presumably the youth’s sister) on which the initials ‘J.M.’ appear. Further art historical research is expected to result in this pendant being found. A detailed description of the painting can be read in the 1921 inventory records. The reason for restoring English Youth is that the entire painting was covered with a tainted varnish, which was turning yellow. By the head in the background there were several small, damaged parts, caused earlier and also by repairs. Hence the quality of the painting and its original colouring could not be appreciated. Moreover, its original dimensions are unknown, since the canvas was cut to a smaller size, which probably accounts for the missing signature. Photo-technical examinations produced results which were instructive and useful as regards restoration. Tests using UV light revealed the varnish, which in the photo can be seen as an opalescent layer, while earlier retouching appears as stains. With infrared reflectographic images, sketchings and pentimenti, namely the changes made by the artist himself, can be revealed. However, in this case there are no traces of such modifications. With the help of these examinations the extent of earlier repairs can be well judged using the UV and luminescent imaging. Apart from the possibility of being exhibited and loaned, it was important to restore this sensitive painting, which well reflects former painterly endeavours in order to enhance further the aforementioned research. There remains the task for the current curator of the Old Picture Gallery’s English collection and the art historians of the museum to discover the sought-after pendant and for it to turn out whom ‘J.M.’ refers to, even if it involves a dramatic international investigation.