To Clean Or Not To Clean?

A reader has sent me a fascinating update regarding George Lisle, and before I move on from the Lisle and Lucas mysteries, I wanted to share it here.

We know that the George Lisle portrait was sold in 1990, looking shiny and spotless, and that it was auctioned with an attribution to “circle of John Michael Wright”.  Yet we now know it had also been up for sale a year earlier, selling at a different auction house, this time attributed to “studio of Sir Peter Lely”.

In that year it had also had a thorough cleaning.

Lisle 2 before and after clean

It’s not often we see a painting before and after cleaning, so this is a great example of how the judgement of whether to clean at all, and how much, can be a tricky decision. I personally prefer the dirtier version, perhaps because it looks like it really has been on a wall or in an attic for a few centuries, collecting the dust and dirt that betrays its true age and the passing of all that time. After cleaning, in my opinion it’s a little too scrubbed, too polished, and has lost some of its character in the process. Curious too, to note how attribution to a particular artist is also an inexact science. This portrait has gone from Lely’s circle to Wright’s in the space of a year, and still nobody seems to have a clue who painted it!


Many thanks to Tyger’s Head Books for the images and new information.

Neil Jeffares

Fairness, candour & curiosity – from finance to art history

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