The restoration of 'Margaret, the Artist's Wife'

Jan van Eyck’s celebrated portrait of his wife, Margaret, was painted in 1439 when she was aged 33. It was lent to the National Gallery, London by the Groeningemuseum, Bruges for the Renaissance Faces exhibition (15 October 2008 – 18 January 2009).

Photograph of 'Margaret, the Artist's Wife' painting by Jan van Eyck, 1439, before cleaning
Jan van Eyck, 'Margaret, the Artist's Wife', 1439, before cleaning
Groeningemuseum, Bruges 
Photograph of 'Margaret, the Artist's Wife' painting by Jan van Eyck, 1439, after cleaning
'Margaret, the Artist's Wife', after cleaning 

 

 

Following the exhibition and at the request of the Groeningemuseum, the painting stayed at the National Gallery for conservation and scientific analysis. At every stage of the treatment, discussions were held with the Groeningemuseum and the curator made frequent visits to London to see progress on the painting.

The cleaning and restoration was carried out by Jill Dunkerton of the Conservation Department. This account of the restoration and the discoveries made during the technical examination has been written by Jill Dunkerton with contributions and research by Rachel Billinge from the Conservation Department and Rachel Morrison and Ashok Roy from the Scientific Department.

  • Why was the painting cleaned?
    Learn about the discoloured varnish and old retouchings which gave ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’ a shabby appearance
  • The cleaning of the painting
    Find out what discoveries were made during the process of cleaning ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’
  • Restoring Margaret van Eyck
    Learn about how the damaged areas of ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’ were restored
  • Panel and frame construction
    Take a closer look at the panel and frame of ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’. Find out how they were assembled
  • The underdrawing
    Find out what the underdrawing of ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’ reveals about Jan van Eyck’s painting techniques
  • X-rays and pentimenti
    Learn about the discoveries made when ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’ was examined using X-ray and infrared technology
  • Margaret's red dress
    Discover how Jan van Eyck created the rich, red shades of Margaret’s dress
  • Van Eyck's handling of oil paint
    Read about Jan van Eyck’s skilful use of paint, in particular his creation of Margaret’s headdress and green sash
  • The speaking image
    Learn about how Jan van Eyck created the impression of a living image in ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’
  • The inscriptions and frame mouldings
    Examine the inscriptions and frame mouldings of ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’
  • The marbled reverse
    Take a closer look at a less familiar side of ‘Margaret, the Artist’s Wife’: the reverse of the painting