The Isleworth Mona Lisa: Painting's Welsh links revealed
- 27 September 2012
- From the section Wales
A painting which some experts believe is an earlier version of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa has been revealed to have some connections to Wales.
The Isleworth Mona Lisa, which has been unveiled in Geneva, once belonged to a Jane Blaker, who lived with the art-collecting Davies sisters in Powys.
The painting was bought by Ms Blaker's brother Hugh in 1913, who is best known as a picture advisor to the sisters.
It is now owned by a Swiss consortium and has spent 40 years in a bank vault.
There has long been debate over the authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa.
It is claimed to have been painted by Da Vinci about 20 years before the famous 16th Century Louvre portrait and is slightly larger.
The Zurich-based Mona Lisa Foundation is trying to prove that Da Vinci painted an earlier version of the Mona Lisa, and presented its findings at the unveiling in Geneva on Thursday.
But Oxford professor Martin Kemp insists there is "no basis for thinking that there was an earlier portrait".
The head of the School of Art at Aberystwyth University is among the arts experts who attended the event in Switzerland.
Robert Meyrick was invited to speak as the world's leading expert on Hugh Blaker, known for his work with the Davies sisters of Gregynog Hall, near Newtown.
Blaker helped the sisters amass one of the largest art collections in the UK during the last century.
Mr Meyrick said: "From the outset, art collector and dealer Blaker believed that he had discovered an earlier version of the Mona Lisa, but did not have the science to prove it.
"He argued that Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) was originally two separate canvases, but after one went missing, both names were applied to the Louvre painting.
"Unlike the Louvre version, the composition of the Isleworth Mona Lisa mirrors exactly that of a drawing Raphael made of the painting in Leonardo's studio - which is now in the Louvre."
After Blaker's death in 1936, the painting passed to his sister Jane who lived at Gregynog as the Davies sisters' companion.
Following her death in 1947, it was sold in London to the American collector, Henry Pulitzer, who in turn left it to his girlfriend.
On her death, it was bought by a Swiss consortium of unnamed individuals who have kept it in a Swiss bank vault for 40 years.
The event in Geneva was attended by the media and Leonardo scholars, while the painting was officially unveiled by Russian chess champion Anatoly Karpov, who is also a Mona Lisa Foundation board member.
Gwendoline and Margaret Davies were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, a wealthy industrialist.
Under the guidance of their advisors, the sisters initially bought paintings by the likes of Turner, Corot and Millet but were encouraged to buy the works of Carrière, Monet and Rodin.
By 1924, they had amassed the largest collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in Britain.
Between 1951 and 1963, they bequeathed 260 works to the National Museums and Galleries of Wales.