Uncovered: X-ray reveals original Maclise lost beneath the surface

Des O’Sullivan on the discovery of a portrait by Cork’s Daniel Maclise. An x-ray of the painting revealed 70% of it’s surface to be unoriginal.

An important original portrait of Catherine Dickens, wife of the writer Charles Dickens, by Cork-born artist Daniel Maclise, has been discovered hidden beneath what had been thought to be the original work.

A portrait of Catherine had been treasured by the Charles Dicken’s Museum at Doughty St, in London for 20 years. Doubts about its authenticity emerged during the past year.

There were gaps in its provenance and the work seemed crude to the museum curator, Louisa Price, especially when compared to the fineness of two gigantic paintings of the Napoleonic Wars by Daniel Maclise in the House of Lords.

An investigation showed that the work had been heavily overpainted, with up to 70% of the surface not original.

Uncovered: X-ray reveals original Maclise lost beneath the surface

In September the painting was scanned and x-rayed at the Hamilton Kerr Institute to determine whether the original Maclise work was underneath.

The original 1847 work by Maclise turned out to be there. The artist and Charles Dickens were friends. It remained in Catherine’s possession after she separated from Dickens in 1858.

The museum, which holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dickens material is in the house where he completed The Pickwick Papers, and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. It is working to raise funds for a complete restoration of the Maclise painting.


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