Art historical research leads to a rare family reunion in Denmark


A joint research project by The Nivaagaard Collection and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has led to a great discovery. A double portrait made in 1626 appeared to be missing a part displaying a woman. Father and son are pictured without the mother, while the Flemish master Cornelis de Vos had painted a family of three. Through some great art historical research, the portrait of the lady was eventually found. Because of a generous grant, the woman could be reunited with the picture of her husband and son at the Danish museum.

The Nivaagaard Collection

The Nivaagaard Collection is home to one of the most important collections of Dutch seventeenth-century paintings in Denmark, with artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, Pieter Claesz. and Jan van Goyen. Prof.em. Dr. Jørgen Wadum, special consultant at The Nivaagaard Collection and Dr. Angela Jager, curator at the RKD, have entered into a collaboration for the research project Dutch and Flemish paintings at The Nivaagaard Collection. The latest expertise and findings in the field of art history and technical research will be used to study the Dutch and Flemish paintings within The Nivaagaard Collection.

Double portrait with a missing woman

Among the collection is the large Double Portrait of a Father and Son (138 x 119 cm), painted in 1626 by the renowned and prestigious Antwerp portrait painter, Cornelis de Vos (1584–1651). The double portrait depicts two generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in the form of a father tenderly holding his son by the hand. In the lower right-hand corner of the painting, a glimpse of a dress can still be seen, indicating that the work once also depicted a mother who must have subsequently been cropped away. As part of the research project, Jørgen Wadum and Angela Jager started the search for the missing mother. In a 1966 conservation report of the National Gallery of Denmark, SMK, they found photographs showcasing the artwork without its frame and in a cleaned and restored condition. On these pictures, part of the arm of the lost woman could be seen, as well as her elaborate cuff and her delicate hand, adorned with a costly ring and holding a pair of beautifully embroidered gloves lined with red velvet.

1. Cornelis de Vos, Double Portrait of a Father and Son, 1626, The Nivaagaard Collection
2. Detail: the lower right-hand corner of the cleaned painting, photo National Gallery of Denmark, SMK

Portrait of a Lady

Wadum and Jager continued their search by looking for comparable portraits of seated women in the oeuvre of De Vos. To their great excitement, this led them to identify a portrait of an elegant lady with a large millstone collar like that of the father in the double portrait. It was De Vos’ Portrait of a Lady from 1626, which was auctioned for sale at Christie’s in London in 2014. At the time, the background of the portrait was dark brown in colour. The new owner, Salomon Lilian, a leading art dealer in Amsterdam and Geneva, had had the portrait cleaned and restored soon after its acquisition. This revealed a landscape with a row of trees in the background behind the lady, as well as a blue sky with white horizontal clouds. The overcast skies match up in both paintings to such an extent that there can be no doubt that they were once part of the same family portrait. The woman's facial features and brown eyes also match those of her son perfectly.

1. Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a Lady, 1626, photo Salomon Lilian
2. Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a Lady, 1626, cleaned and restored, photo Salomon Lilian

Family reunion

Not only was the missing woman now found, the Portrait of a Lady also turned out to be on sale. A grant from the New Carlsberg Foundation allowed Nivaagaards Malerisamling to acquire the portrait of the mother, reuniting her with her husband and son after a separation of nearly two hundred years. Now it remains for the researchers to find out exactly which family has been reunited in these pictures. For more information, see

The two paintings re-united in The Nivaagaard Collection, photos Angela Jager