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‘A Duet’

George Adolphus Storey was a 19th century artist, who painted his original picture of ‘A Duet’ in one style from the late 17th century. However he then made extensive alterations before exhibiting it, changing several main areas of the composition. Why he reworked the canvas in such a way rather than starting again is not clear but he did retain the same figure positions in the new image. We can identify the major changes by looking at the x-ray image of particular areas.

Accession number WAG 2638

Background information

The artist Storey was painting in the 19th century, but in an earlier style. The picture was radically altered by the artist before it was exhibited in 1870. Some of the main changes are identifiable by looking at an x-ray image.

On stylistic grounds the first, hidden, image reflects a later 17th century style in the manner of an artist such as Gerard Terborch, showing a somewhat affluent society costume with distinct French influences around the room, such as the gilded picture frames. The lavish skirt would be typical of this style.

In contrast, the now visible image could be from the same period, but in a plainer style more associated with an artist such as Pieter de Hooch. The costumes and the simple hexagonal mirror frame are more everyday in style and appearance than the earlier decorations. The practice of 19th century artists painting in the style of earlier times was common, but why Storey repainted the image rather than simply starting again is not clear.

Examination under X-ray radiation

The most obvious changes identifiable in the x-ray are as follows:

  • The young lady had a different costume, originally with a much more elaborate dress where the hexagonal mirror hangs on the right hand wall, Storey had originally painted two ornate gilded frames.
  • The artist changed his mind where to position the hands of the man and woman holding the song sheet.
  • The room originally had rafters visible across the ceiling.
  • The chair of the harpsichord player had an ornate, rather than plain, back.
  • The position of the chair was further back into the room.
  • The floor tiles ran at a different angle.

The changes listed are the most obvious but careful examination of the x-radiograph and the use of other examination techniques such as infra- red light and strong raking light show many more.

  • The doorway leading from the room was at some stage further to the left and a door opened inwards on the left hand side of the door frame.
  • The overall perspective in the room was different: the floor tiles ran at a different angle and the ceiling rafters were visible.
  • The window looking into the courtyard was more to the left and a curved archway was visible through it.
  • The landscape painting on the back wall was not there and the group of objects on the table to the left was differently arranged.
  • The size of the earlier image was slightly smaller
  • Minor changes were made to the shirt collars of the men