Saving Lady Mary

Important NPG portrait needs conserving

By Roger Williams | February 17, 2018


The National Portrait Gallery in London is trying to raise £6,900 to conserve an important painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the eighteenth-century poet and author of Travels in Turkey, which inspired many European writers and artists, such as Ingres, not least for her description of her experiences of a women’s Turkish Bath (see Cornucopia 10). She was the wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and is pictured in oriental dress with their son Edward, whom she inoculated against smallpox, becoming a pioneer of the procedure when she introduced it to Britain. The painting is attributed to Vanmour. ”Few painters have left such a complete record of Istanbul,” Philip Mansel wrote in a review of Jean Baptiste Vanmour: An Eyewitness to the Tulip Era in Cornucopia 30.

Dated 1717, the year Edward Wortley Montagu was appointed ambassador, the painting is 693mm x 909mm, and is divided between an interior and a landscape showing Constantinople, with a servant and a messenger. Degraded varnish, worn paint and darkened retouching have left areas of the picture in need of attention. “The treatment will restore the compositional clarity, the colour and the tonal values of the painting,” says the gallery, which gives further details here.

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