UCL News


Painting by numbers

15 July 2004

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, painted by Dutch artist Vermeer (1632-1675), was sold for £16,245,600 at Sotheby's, London on 7 July 2004 following 10 years of research and conservation by UCL's Ms Libby Sheldon.

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, thought to have been painted around 1670, is the first painting by the artist to be auctioned in over 80 years. Once considered a forgery, it is now recognised as the only accepted work of the artist in private hands, thanks to 10 years of pioneering research and conservation organised by Ms Sheldon, who co-teaches UCL's History of Art with Material Studies degree.

Using a wide range of techniques ranging from polarising light microscopy to x-ray examination, Ms Sheldon, with her colleagues Ms Catherine Hassall and Ms Nicola Costaras, discovered a variety of fascinating findings which proved conclusively that the painting was by the celebrated artist. She worked with Robin Clark, Sir William Ramsay Professor of Chemistry, using Raman Laser Microscopy. This confirmed the existence of Lead Tin Yellow in the shawl, a pigment that was not used after the 17th century, thereby proving it was not a later imitation.

The discovery of other colours such as Green Earth (found in the flesh tones) and Ultramarine (found in the creamy tones of the background walls), which was used rarely by Dutch artists at the time but is a signature colour of Vermeer, proved again the authenticity of the painting. In addition, analysis of the canvas revealed that the warp and weft matched the canvas used in another Vermeer painting The Lacemaker and were likely to have been cut from the same cloth.

Image: Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, Vermeer

To find out more about Libby Sheldon use the link below.

Link: Ms Sheldon