Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Sad Love Story Hidden Inside A Painting

Arthur Streeton's 1890 masterpiece 'Spring', which revealed a secret love story under x-ray

For more than 120 years, a secret love story lay hidden behind layers of paint inside landscape of one of Australia's most famous paintings, by renowned artist Arthur Streeton :

Spring, which was completed in 1890, depicts an idyllic rural Australian scene, with a group of naked boys bathing in a hillside stream.

But when Michael Varcoe-Cocks, a conservator with the National Gallery of Victoria, examined it under a microscope, he discovered the words "Florry Walker's my sweetheart", inscribed several times. The gallery then X-rayed the work and found a nude female figure, which had been painted over.

The declarations of love, invisible to the naked eye, were inscribed using a fine point when the paint was still wet. The discovery intrigued gallery staff, who set off to establish the identity of the object of Streeton's romantic attention.

From the Melbourne Age :

The conservator later found that Streeton had inscribed "Florry Walker is my sweetheart" into the wet paint using a pin or needle, and her name several more times. The words are invisible to the naked eye.

Mr Varcoe-Cocks' investigations led to the finding that another artist, Lucy Walker, had a sister called Florence, who would have been 17 at the time. Streeton was 22.

Using public records, he was able to track down Florence's descendants. They told him that Streeton had given her a painting as a gift, Flight of Summer, dedicated to F. Walker, and now estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars. It is painted on a wooden veneer panel, with a smoking cigarette beside a dead match at the foot of the painting. A thorny rose branch, adorned with rosehips, is interwoven with smoke from the cigarette that forms into a female figure at the top.

Florry's granddaughter, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the family had always known there was some sort of romance. "After all, Streeton gave the painting to gran."