'We Have Wiped the Smile Off Her Face, I'm Afraid'

Art historians restore a 16th-century work to its original form
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2021 12:10 PM CDT
Vegetable Seller's Smile Removed in Restoration
How the painting looked before the restoration. The next photo in the gallery shows the "after" photo. In that one, the woman's faint smile is now gone, as is the skyline.   (English Heritage)

A 16th-century vegetable seller is looking a little less cheerful these days thanks to an art restoration that returned her to her original form. The group English Heritage on Friday unveiled the restored work thought to have been painted by Flemish artist Joachim Beuckelaer, reports the Guardian. It seems that after Beuckelaer finished the work, some well-meaning if misguided person added a smile to the lips of the young woman depicted. At another point somebody added a gloomy sky and a tower to the painting known as "The Vegetable Seller," most likely to make it square so it could fit into a frame. Restorers have now removed the smile, sky, and tower. (See more of the images at English Heritage.)

"We have wiped the smile off her face, I'm afraid," Alice Tate-Harte, the group's collections conservator, tells the London Times. The restoration also revealed that the unsigned painting is much older than originally thought, by about two centuries. That dates it to the era when Beuckelaer was creating similar works of art, thus resulting in the educated guess that he's the painter. As for somebody's decision to add a skyline to make it fit a frame: "It seems quite a crazy thing to do," says Tate-Harte. "But this did happen an awful lot in country houses." (Nothing will ever top what must be the most infamous art restoration in history.)

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