One of the most vexing things to me when I arrived at MedChi in April was the fact that someone had purposely removed all of the plaques and plates from the portraits. They arrived in my office a month or so after I started working on the identifying the portraits, in an old shoe box. I must confess, that I nearly cried when I saw them, I was so furious.
Although I had a list of the portraits from Sotheby’s, there were no images to go along with the descriptions. There are some acquisition numbers on the reverse of some of the paintings, but not all of them.
At first, I thought that someone might have removed the plaques and plates to clean them, but clearly, they do not all need to be cleaned. Some are on very tarnished brass, but they can’t be cleaned because the names are hand-painted on them. Others, like John Archer, are painted on gilded wood and are still in beautiful condition. There are also a number of the plates that are under glass, so they wouldn’t have tarnished. I keep trying to work out why someone would have wholesale removed these, and what they were thinking!
Over the past few months, I’ve been playing detective and trying to sort out who’s who! Some paintings have stickers on them to help identify – and this is one I removed from the gilded frame – and others are marked in RED FINGERNAIL POLISH on the reverse.
Sometimes, I walk around with my Sotheby’s list and a measuring tape and see who’s who. Is this the Gentleman with Black Tie or is it someone else? Is this the Lady With Beads or the Lady with the Lace Collar?
Take these three gentlemen. All three are identified as the same person – Frederick Hintze. I think that numbers one and two are the same person, but number three is a different person. It’s the eyebrows and the hairline that helped me draw that conclusion. Which leaves the question, who is number 3?
At some point, everyone will be identified, and I will be happy… maybe!