The pretty young woman in the straw bonnet and ruffled gown leans on a porch rail and gazes serenely from her late-19th-century portrait, unaware of the harrowing future that awaits her image. Over the next century, the painting would be heavily overpainted during the course of at least three restoration attempts, possibly spirited out of Poland to escape Nazi vandalism during World War II, and most damaging of all, intentionally sliced and torn with a sharp object in the late 20th or early 21st century, leaving it with long tears, a gaping hole at its center and a broken stretcher.
Last year its owner, who described the painting as a family treasure, asked the Winterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) for assistance. The portrait became a treatment project for WUDPAC Fellow Julianna Ly, who found that the heavily damaged painting had been wax lined and, through cross-sectional analysis, that some areas had as many as 14 layers, including a layer containing a bitumen material that had caused extreme craquelure. She also discovered a signature, “T. Maleszwski,” that had been obscured by uneven areas of saturation. Tytus Maleszewski (1827-1898), was a Polish painter and pastel artist who often painted women in regional folk costumes.