Thank you for your support

Thank you for your support

Thank you for your support

Female adventurer, poet and medical pioneer

Female adventurer, poet and medical pioneer

We are delighted to announce that the Gallery has successfully reached its target of £6,900 for the necessary conservation of the portrait of an eighteenth century pioneer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, following a public fundraising appeal. Thank you for being part of the history of this painting.

The conservation work will begin in the summer of 2018 and is expected to last 4—6 months. Once the work is complete the portrait will be redisplayed in our Eighteenth Century Galleries, alongside other key figures in the development of science and medicine. You will be able to follow the conservation process here on our website.

Thank you to everyone who made the conservation appeal for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu a success through your donations. The Gallery is now able to ensure that this portrait will be enjoyed in excellent condition, and free to all, for many years to come.

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.