Sometime back I bought a little portrait at Dunbar Sloane in Wellington. Well as it happened I bought two on the same night but this is the story of one. I discovered it among a number of small paintings in one of their antique sales. So the painting, by an unknown artist, was considered decorative rather than anything special art wise.
This is not a story about discovering a lost masterpiece. I liked the painting because, although a little naïve, it represented a kind and gentle-looking younger man. He was dressed in a severe black coat and a crisply tied white cravat and was seated on a little red chair. This painting was a nice depiction of men’s costume in the early 19th century but it’s no great shakes as art.
Most portraits that come up for sale seem to be of garrulous balding ruddy-faced types and so I decided that this sweet-faced young man could come home with me. The other portrait purchased that night was of a young bearded Renaissance scholar (with something slightly Brad Pitt about him) so you get the theme of my portrait collection – attractive young men in need of a home.
The little portrait has been hanging in the library for some time now and in an archaic yet modern version of identity theft I’ve used him as my digital avatar on a number of occasions and I’ve become very fond of him – as I have of each of my small collection of portrait paintings.
After a while it became apparent that, even in the red hued gloom of the library, that the man in my picture was getting a bit stressed and tired around the edges. The big gilded frame is tatty but the painting itself (on wooden panel) is solid but crazed and dirty. So I decided that this young proto-metrosexual needed a little work done and sent him off to the oil painting version of a day spa.
Earlier this week I collected the painting from the painting conservator Nel Rol – who a little while back cleaned and re-stretched the large Joseph Gaut that now hangs in the studio. I am on a little bit of a conservation spree at the moment. I think we hesitate to get works cleaned in part because there are horror stories and part because of the imagined cost. However each newly returned work from Nel is a joyous revelation and I highly recommend getting a little work done where and when it needed.
Not only has my little chap come back freshly barbered with his face clean and smooth, but also his linen has been freshly ironed and his coat brushed. Even the little red chair he sits on has been spring cleaned.
He’ll be popped back in his frame and again take his place on the library wall – a lesson to us all that we need to moisturise a least once every one hundred and eighty years.