Wiping Away a Smile

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Normally OGN likes to write about 'stuff to make you smile' rather than stories about wiping away a smile but, in this instance, it's all about correcting an historical flourish and returning a painting to its original glory.

At some point in the last four centuries a painting restorer probably decided the Dutch vegetable seller was far too glum and should be smiling. Now it has been put right and she is once again enigmatic.

English Heritage has unveiled the results of a two-year conservation project to reveal the true glory of a mysterious, unsigned painting that has been in its stores for more than 60 years.

The restoration work not only reveals the rogue addition of an upturned smile, but also a jarring strip of dirty sky added to make the canvas square rather than rectangular. So, the restorers removed the smile and the rogue sky, and gave the whole painting a good clean.

Technical analysis and research also dates it to just before the Dutch Golden Age, much earlier than previously thought, making it highly likely that the painting is linked to the important 16th-century still-life painter Joachim Beuckelaer.

The painting has gone on display at Audley End (pictured) for the first time in 60 years and in the way it was originally conceived for the first time in centuries.