The Conservation of the portrait of John Donne

This remarkable picture is one of the earliest portraits of an Elizabethan poet.  It was acquired by the Gallery in 2006 but the painting is in need of significant conservation work including, stabilisation of the paint surface, the removal of layers of old varnish and later additions.

The cleaning and conservation of the John Donne portrait will be expensive and time consuming. However, expert advice indicates that the required work will help to reveal the original appearance and true subtleties of this important painting.

The current condition: The painting is currently covered in an old opaque varnish and has areas of retouching and additions (as seen in the photograph taken in ultra violet light image 1)

NPG 6790 ultra violet

Image 1

NPG 6790

Image 2

There are several significant areas of loss and damage as seen by the photograph taken in raking light (image 2) and in the detail of individual losses (image 3). One of the eyes has suffered damage in the past and been only partially restored (image 4).

NPG 6790 losses

Image 3

NPG 6790 eye detail

Image 4

What is happening to the picture?

The conservation work will include:

  • Varnish removal
  • Careful investigation
  • Removal of old restoration and non original paint
  • Re-jointing of the panel to realign the misjoined wooden boards
  • Final retouching of damaged areas. Particular areas of the portrait that will be enhanced by this process are the sitter’s left arm and details of the face and costume.

Update on the conservation of the portrait of John Donne