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Art detectives on the case at city's Glynn Vivian Gallery

Lovers of mystery took a behind-the-scenes look at how an unidentified work of art is being investigated at a Swansea gallery.

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On a guided tour of the gallery's oil painting conservation studio, they heard the story of the item; and how it may possibly be an important work by an old Italian Master.

They heard from Swansea Council's gallery conservation officer Jenny Williamson who is leading the restoration of the work.

Tracey McNulty, the council's head of cultural services, said: "This was a wonderful chance for people to understand more about the specialist art of conservation - and to understand how our experts plan to uncover a long-standing mystery.

"Visitors met the Glynn Vivian conservator and went behind the scenes in the gallery's conservation department.

"They explored the work the team is undertaking and learnt how the collection is handled, cared for and conserved for future generations.

"They saw the conservator cleaning the mystery painting, watched Jenny at work and discussed the process with her."

The mystery painting - around 107cm by 216cm in size - was given to the gallery nearly 100 years ago by John Dyer, a wealthy Swansea businessman who had made money as a flour merchant.

However, the painting was in a poor state at the time. The canvas was degraded and there were several tears. It is covered with a layer of soot, making it hard to see the figures in the scene.

It spent many years out of the public gaze, in storage.

Jenny Williamson said: "The gallery's recent redevelopment has allowed us to embark on conserving this work - a project that previously was not possible.

"Our new state-of-the-art oil painting conservation studio has the space and equipment to start the restoration of potentially one of our collection's finest paintings.

"Initial investigations and cleaning tests have revealed the quality of the work. There appear to be similarities with paintings by famous Venetian artist Paolo Veronese (1528-88).

"This is an exciting opportunity to carry out a major restoration of possibly a very important work.

"The restoration will reveal the quality and style of the painting and will help with attribution.

"We're working in partnership with Swansea University scientists to analyse the pigments. We hope that this will help establish exactly where and when the painting was made."

The full conservation and restoration will take up to two years.

Gallery visitors on the conservation tour also saw Jenny explain conservation work on Queen Anne as Princess, attributed to by Michael Dahl (1659-1743), and Cupid Asleep in a Garland of Flowers, attributed to Mario Nuzzi (1603-1673) and currently on display as part of a Glynn Vivian exhibition by Sophy Rickett, Cupid and the Curious Moaning of Kenfig Burrows.

More: www.glynnviviangallery.org 

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