Help to conserve a portrait

Help to conserve a portrait

Help to conserve a portrait

Female adventurer, poet and medical pioneer

Female adventurer, poet and medical pioneer

The National Portrait Gallery has the most comprehensive collection of portraits of Britain's greatest figures and preserving the Collection is one of our most important duties. To ensure that our works are available for display in the Gallery we undertake a rigorous programme of conservation each year.

Please help us bring this important portrait back to life by making a donation to support much needed conservation. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was an eighteenth century pioneer, she travelled in Turkey and brought the science of inoculation to Britain. We need to raise £6,900 to enable the necessary conservation; once restored this significant portrait will hang in our in our Eighteenth Century Galleries alongside other key figures in the development of science and medicine.

Be part of the history of this painting, please donate today to help us ensure this portrait can be enjoyed, in excellent condition, free to all.

The sitter and the Portrait

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu travelled in Constantinople (Istanbul) writing important accounts of lives of women in Turkey. On her return to London, she introduced smallpox inoculation to Western medicine. A published poet, her writings also dealt with issues such as industrial wages, censorship, and contemporary attitudes to women, of which she was critical. Montagu was a talented linguist, and in her later years lived in France and Italy. This portrait depicts Lady Mary with her son, who she had inoculated against smallpox in Constantinople, which can be seen in the background.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants 
attributed to Jean Baptiste Vanmour oil on canvas, c. 1717 27 1/4 in. x 35 3/4 in. (693 mm x 909 mm) Purchased, 1958 NPG 3924

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants

Condition and Conservation

Areas of the portrait are now obscured and difficult to understand. This is due to a combination of degraded varnish, darkened retouching and worn original paint. These flaws are particularly evident in the sitter’s face and in the background where the appearance of the red under layer compromises the clarity and depth of the landscape.

Detail of sitter’s face showing old discoloured varnish and worn paint

What will we do?

The discoloured varnish and darkened retouching will be carefully removed and a clear, conservation grade varnish applied. Losses and worn areas, where the red under layer has become visible, will be retouched using pigments mixed with a similar varnish. The treatment will restore the compositional clarity, the colour and the tonal values of the painting.

Detail of sitter’s background showing old discoloured varnish and worn paint

Case for Conservation

This is an important portrait in the Collection. The Gallery collects portraits of people who made significant contributions to British history and culture, and, given the limits imposed by society on most women in the past, opportunities to acquire early portraits of women are rare. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was an intellectual, a writer and traveller with a journalistic eye. She is best remembered for her Letters from Turkey, most importantly, she introduced the technique of inoculation to Britain. This portrait is on permanent display and serves to represent both a pioneering woman and the international outlook of the early period.

How much do we need to raise to restore this portrait? £6,900

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