The other Mona Lisa

Robert Meyrick, Head of the School of Art.

Robert Meyrick, Head of the School of Art.

27 September 2012

The Head of School of Art at Aberystwyth University is a member of a team of art experts who unveiled a painting today (Thursday 27 September) in Geneva that many believe to be an earlier version of the Mona Lisa.

Robert Meyrick was invited to speak at the unveiling in Geneva as the world’s leading expert on Hugh Blaker.

Blaker bought the painting, which is known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, in 1913 and is best known in Wales as picture advisor to the Davies sisters of Gregynog.

The work would have been painted about 20 years before the famous portrait which hangs in the Louvre, is slightly larger and has long been the subject of debate over its authenticity.

If the Isleworth Mona Lisa turns out to be authentic, this will conclude that Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of the Mona Lisa – an earlier version and the later iconic version at the Louvre.

Robert Meyrick explains, “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 painting which is at the Louvre.

“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 was attended by around 90 members of the world press and Leonardo scholars and was officially unveiled by Russian world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, who is also a Mona Lisa Foundation Board member.

Other scholars included Professor Alessandro Vezzosi, Director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, Professor John Asmus, a research physicist from the Institute for Pure and Applied Physical Sciences at the University of California, and Joe Mullins, a forensic imaging specialist at the New York Institute of Art.

The research will be presented in a newly published 320-page book entitled Mona Lisa – Leonardo’s Earlier Version, which was also launched at the unveiling.
It was Robert Meyrick’s research on Blaker that last year provided the evidence required to authenticate a painting by Amedeo Modigliani.