Hidden Art

Mystery Met Painting Deemed a Velázquez

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has displayed the mysterious Portrait of a Man among the works of famed Spanish Baroque artist Diego Velázquez since acquiring the painting 60 years ago. But the canvas, presenting the image of a mustached man in his 30s, was never confirmed as Velázquez’s work—until now. Though previous cleaning, restoration, and revarnishing had demoted the painting to a workshop piece, Michael Gallagher, chief of the Met’s paintings conservation department, took another look. By studying, cleaning, and conserving the painting carefully again, Gallagher concluded that beneath the tarnished varnish and botched retouching was indeed the masterful work of Velázquez. Jonathan Brown, America’s leading Velázquez expert, agreed. “One glance was all it took,” he said. “All the liveliness of the artist’s brushstrokes and all the subtleties that for decades had been covered over were revealed.” The proof is most certainly in the cleaning.