How I work

The story behind a painting

Every painting tells a ‘story’. This story is often one which cannot be understood from the literal meaning of the image. Why, for example, was it made in the first place? Who were its owners over the course of time? What is its state of preservation? Has it been over-restored? Are there known preparatory studies for it? What is known about the maker? Often this story has been distorted, or even lost over time. Thorough research can be a rewarding journey of discovery and reveal the painting’s true value.

Looking carefully

My work always begins with a careful inspection of the work. First I analyse the style and composition; then I examine every detail of the image. I want to be able to identify and understand every aspect precisely. Who are the people depicted; what are they doing? And where is the scene set? In this way I try to reconstruct the story behind the scene.
Then I move on to my research: who is the painter? How does the work fit into his oeuvre? What do we already know about the work in question, and what did people think of it in the past? Are there any gaps in the information which I can fill, or is there perhaps something new I can add to the story?

A new story

Consulting other experts is essential at this stage. For questions about the condition of a piece I ask the opinion of conservators. They can tell me exactly what has happened to the painting in the past, and, if necessary, advise me on the pros and cons of undertaking new conservation. And, of course, I seek the help of other art-historians, curators and academics in the Netherlands and abroad. I maintain close contacts with many of my colleagues, which means that I can rely on their expertise in a wide range of different areas.
In this way a new story develops which adds further depth and significance to the existing one.

Marina Aarts